The US Supreme Court on Thursday dealt US President Donald Trump a major setback on his hardline immigration policies, ruling against his bid to end a programme that protects from deportation 650,000 immigrants, dubbed “Dreamers“, who entered the United States as children without documentation.
The justices upheld lower court rulings that found that Trump’s 2017 move to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, created in 2012 by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, was unlawful.
Those who receive relief through the plan are typically called “Dreamers” by advocates and commentators alike, after the US Congressional DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act legislation that took up their cause.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) moved to end the programme in September 2017.
In its decision, the court wrote the “dispute before the Court is not whether DHS may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so.”
However, the court concluded that the “total rescission” of DACA “was arbitrary and capricious”.
For now, Dreamer immigrants retain their protection from deportation and their authorisation to work in the US.
The decision from Trump’s DHS to end #DACA was ruled arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act by #SCOTUS!
Read opinion here: https://t.co/1FkbORQD2d
HomeIsHere and DREAMers are #HereToStay! pic.twitter.com/K83fAdLGM9
— Lambda Legal (@LambdaLegal) June 18, 2020
When Trump’s administration moved to end the act, protests were organised against the move across the country with Dreamers and advocates calling for new legislation that would provide a path to citizenship.
The programme grants deportation relief and work permits – but not a path to citizenship – to 649,000 immigrants brought to the US as children without documentation.
Trump lashed out at the Supreme Court decision and another on Monday that extended federal employment protections to gay and transgender workers under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
He called the decisions “horrible and politically charged” and tweeted, “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”
These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2020
Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, speaking at the US Capitol on Thursday, called the decision “surprising and welcome”.
“Let me say this – in these very difficult times the Supreme court provided a bright ray of sunshine this week, with the decision on Monday … and now with this decision,” Schumer said.
This is a wonderful, wonderful day for the young Dreamers, for their families, for the American Dream.
They work hard. They are on the frontlines of COVID-19, in the Armed Forces, in school and college.
We have always believed in immigration in America. It is part of our soul. pic.twitter.com/HwmwyKCtGO
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) June 18, 2020
The Supreme Court outcome seems certain to elevate the issue in Trump’s re-election campaign, given the anti-immigrant rhetoric of his first presidential run in 2016 and immigration restrictions his administration has imposed since then.
The Biden campaign told Reuters news agency in early June that dismantling DACA would backfire on Trump.
“Immigration is a unifying issue for Latinos,” Biden campaign senior adviser Cristobal Alex said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Puerto Rican, if you’re born a citizen, you understand that attacks on Latinos based on immigration [are] really an attack on all Latinos.”
President Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]
Any decision to end DACA could motivate Hispanic voters in pivotal states, said Stephen Nuno-Perez, director of communications for the Seattle-based political opinion firm Latino Decisions.
The firm’s polling suggests immigrant rights ranking among the top issues for Hispanic voters, just behind the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare and economic matters.
Action by Trump to end DACA also could have helped convince undecided moderate, college-educated swing voters to choose Biden, even if they agree with Trump’s economic message, according to Democratic pollster Nick Gourevitch of the New York City-based Global Strategy Group.
“Generally speaking, voters are pretty sympathetic to Dreamers,” Gourevitch told Reuters, noting that about 27,000 DACA enrollees are working in healthcare jobs during the pandemic. “The president likes to pick a lot of immigration fights, but I think the DACA immigration fight is a bad one for him to be having.”