Immigration and Citizenship

Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California; Trump v. NAACP; and McAleenan v. Vidal

In three consolidated cases, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of CaliforniaTrump v. NAACP, and McAleenan v. Vidal, the Supreme Court is considering whether the Trump Administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy is reviewable and, if so, whether the decision violated the law.  These cases are important because DACA has been incredibly successful, and if that policy is terminated, it will negatively affect not only DACA recipients and their families, but also the country as a whole.

Case Summary

In June 2012, the Department of Homeland Security established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which authorizes the temporary deferred removal of “certain young people who were brought to this country as children.”  Over the past seven years, almost 800,000 people have obtained protections under DACA, which also allows qualified recipients to apply for work permits.  In September 2017, however, the Trump Administration announced that it was ending DACA, citing the policy’s supposed “legal and constitutional defects.”  Soon after, Respondents in these cases filed three separate federal lawsuits in California, Washington, D.C., and New York, arguing that the decision to terminate DACA violates, among other things, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), a law that prohibits agency action that is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”  In November 2018, after the three district courts each concluded that the decision to end DACA was unlawful, the Trump Administration asked the Supreme Court to review the cases, even before any court of appeals had ruled on the issues.  The Ninth Circuit subsequently upheld the lower court’s decision in one of the cases, and in June 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to hear all three cases together before the other two courts of appeals reached decisions.

CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of current members and bipartisan former members of Congress (172 in all), arguing that DACA was a lawful exercise of executive discretion and that the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate DACA on the ground that it was unlawful therefore violated the APA.  Our brief makes two main points.  First, we argue that DACA was a valid exercise of executive authority.  Congress has long delegated significant discretion to the executive branch to implement the nation’s immigration laws and set enforcement priorities.  And the executive branch has repeatedly exercised this broad discretion by granting deferred action on both an ad hoc basis and by establishing categorical threshold criteria for deferral, and Congress has consistently affirmatively approved of this practice.  Accordingly, DACA was a lawful exercise of executive discretion.

Second, we explain that the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind DACA because it concluded that the policy was unlawful was itself in violation of the APA.  The Trump Administration made clear in 2017 that it was ending DACA because it believed that the policy had “legal and constitutional defects.”  It also asserted that a court would likely strike down DACA because the Fifth Circuit had enjoined another program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) in a case called Texas v. United States, and the Supreme Court had affirmed that decision by an equally divided vote.  But we explain that DACA is materially distinguishable from DAPA, and because DACA was a permissible—and, indeed, essential—exercise of the executive branch’s discretion in implementing the nation’s immigration laws, the Trump Administration violated the APA by rescinding DACA on the erroneous ground that the policy was unlawful.

Case Timeline

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