Supreme Court Upholds DACA, Defending a Generation of American Success Stories

Supreme Court Upholds DACA, Defending a Generation of American Success Stories
(Susan Ruggles / Flickr)

Edited June 18 at 11 a.m. PST.

Editor’s note: On Thursday, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. DACA protects hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by liberal justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor. Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh dissented.

In its ruling, the Court decided the Trump administration failed to provide an adequate reason for ending the program. However, they did not rule on the constitutionality of ending the program—meaning the Trump administration could attempt to terminate DACA again in the future.

This is a welcome relief for DACA recipients, but could be overturned if Congress does not act to uphold DACA permanently.

“While the Supreme Court’s decision allows DACA recipients and their loved ones to breathe a sigh of relief, this struggle is far from over,” said Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. “The ruling leaves the door open for the Administration to end DACA in the future if it presents an alternative rationale that the court deems acceptable. It is now more important than ever that Congress pass permanent protections and ensure a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients.” 

The editorial below, originally published in November 2019, offers the perspective of Marielena Hincapié, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center who has been involved with DACA since day one. Hincapié and her team at the NILC brought the first lawsuit to challenge Trump’s termination of DACA. She wrote this reflection after arguing the case in front of the Supreme Court—who, on Thursday, ruled in her favor, and in favor of Dreamers throughout the U.S.

Young people like Martín Batalla Vidal represent the future of our country.

The son of a devoted single mom, Martín grew up in New York City and paid his way through school to become a nursing assistant. Today, he works in a rehabilitation center, supporting patients with brain injuries as they recover.

Martín’s career helping others was made possible by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era policy that allowed some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and met certain criteria to legally live, attend school and work in the U.S.

For the last two years, the Trump administration has been seeking to end DACA and deport hundreds of thousands of young people—so Martín and other DACA recipients took the president to court. Their suit to block Trump’s unlawful efforts to end DACA went before the Supreme Court last week.

The stakes of this legal proceeding couldn’t be higher, both for Martín and our entire country. With the lives of 700,000 DACA recipients and their families hanging in the legal balance, the Court must reject Trump’s illegal attempts to deport a generation of passionate young leaders and affirm DACA’s positive impact on our country.

Supreme Court Upholds DACA, Defending a Generation of American Success Stories
Protestors at the Los Angeles March for Immigrant Rights called for the end the surveillance, deportations and criminalization of undocumented peoples—and protection of DACA. (Molly Adams)

I’m one of Martín’s lawyers, and I’m also an advocate who sat across from President Obama to urge him to exercise his executive authority to help immigrant youth. I know firsthand that DACA is constitutionally sound, and that Trump’s attacks on DACA recipients violate federal law.

My organization, the National Immigration Law Center, has been involved with DACA since day one. We have been advocating for permanent legislative reforms, such as the DREAM Act, since 2001. We also advocated for the Obama administration to exercise prosecutorial discretion—just like all law enforcement agencies do—and provide deferred action to immigrant youth who were being caught up in the deportation dragnet.

Until DACA, countless young immigrants—who knew no other home than the U.S.—were being detained and facing deportation. Immigrant youth leaders across the nation shared their stories, engaged in civil disobedience, organized and advocated for President Obama to exercise his well-established executive authority, which Republican and Democratic administrations since Eisenhower have used to provide immigration relief to different groups of immigrants.

Our advocacy led to the DACA policy, which provided much-needed relief for these young people—until President Trump was sworn into office.    

Trump’s capricious attempt to terminate the policy came after immigrant youth had voluntarily come forward to apply for DACA and relied on the federal government for protection. Announced abruptly, without any reasoned explanation for such a major policy change, the decision clearly violated federal administrative law. We worked with courageous plaintiffs like Martín to sue the administration within hours of their abrupt decision; several lower courts have now agreed that the Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA are illegal, allowing DACA recipients to continue renewing their status. 

Martín is following in the footsteps of a long line of American civil rights leaders by bravely stepping forward to sue the Trump administration. He’s putting aside his own fears and courageously standing up for what’s right—not just for him, but for our country.

He isn’t alone. For years, undocumented young people have led the fight to enact and protect DACA. Grassroots activism to protect immigrant youth has steadily grown from informal circles of peers connecting over shared struggles to a nationwide movement engaging thousands of immigrant youth.

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

As the Court considers last week’s arguments and deliberates on a ruling, thousands of immigrant young people and their allies are continuing to organize, educate and march to demonstrate the strength of the movement. Each day, the courage of these youth leaders inspires me to fight with them and all immigrants at this moment in our country’s history when we are under attack.

This case is about more than just the legal issues at play. With his cruel and illegal attacks on DACA, President Trump is cynically pandering to his base and overlooking the tremendous positive impact of the policy for our entire society. Recent polls found that 96 percent of DACA recipients are employed or enrolled in higher education and work authorization through DACA has helped recipients move into higher-paying jobs. This means more opportunities for their families and more tax contributions for our nation—DACA recipients and their households pay $5.7 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes that bolster our economy.

I’ve seen the best of our American values—resilience, compassion and courage—come to life in my work with Martín. DACA allowed him to pursue his dream of helping others through his work rehabilitating patients with brain injuries. Losing DACA would mean losing his job, and harming the patients who depend on his care. It would deprive him of a fulfilling career and rob our country of his highest potential to contribute to our society. 

It is time for Martín’s future in our country to be secure, once and for all. There is no question that DACA makes our country stronger—yet Trump continues to push a cruel anti-immigrant agenda to strip young people of their rights and the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

Martín, his fellow Dreamers and his family belong in our country. The Court cannot stand by and let their accomplishments be snatched away by an administration that wants to score political points by deporting talented young people.


Marielena Hincapié is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, which helped implement DACA and brought the first lawsuit to challenge Trump’s termination of DACA.