Update: Supreme Court rejects Trump bid to end DACA protections

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants, his second stunning election-season rebuke from the court in a week after Monday’s ruling that it’s illegal to fire people because they’re gay or transgender.

For now, the young immigrants retain their protection from deportation and their authorization to work in the United States.

“We are quite pleased with the outcome of this morning’s Supreme Court ruling,” said Delaware State University President Tony Allen in a prepared statement.

DSU graduated its first class of Dreamers this year, with 28 students who accepted their diplomas this spring.

Of them, was Dulce Guerrero — the first of the Dreamers to graduate during the fall commencement in 2019.

“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to. It’s something that I had to put on hold for five years, because of the barriers that existed in the state of Georgia,” she said in December. “It feels like a sense of accomplishment to finally reach this milestone and say: we’ve been able to do it, despite the hardship, despite all the obstacles that we face. We’re finally here and it’s graduation day.”

Her peers joined her in the spring, though the conclusion of their final semester presented its own challenges as the students headed home to other states when COVID-19 closed campuses across the country.

Juan Chavez Reynaga said in May he was drawn to DSU because it is an HBCU.

“The diversity on campus was very vibrant,” he said. “So I was very drawn to that because, growing up in Indiana, you really don’t see very many people of different colors and different nationalities, ethnicities.”

He graduated with a 4.0, as one of seven students to receive the Presidential Academic Award.

“I had graduated high school and then I was out in the workforce for a few years, so I knew going into college that I had to give it my all because this opportunity wasn’t just handed out,” he said, adding that he had done very well in high school but wanted to try harder in college. “And so even throughout the four years, I was working and going to school, so I just kind of had to prioritize my time, and make sure I had a schedule for everything and make sure I did my assignments on time, study while I still went to work — just kind of make it work.”

For Estephaney Martinez, getting to graduation was surreal and blissful, she said.

“It feels like I reached the finish line,” she said. “I’ve done races before so I know what it feels like to have to reach that after you’ve been running for so long.”

Dr. Allen noted that when DSU was founded in 1891, “the circumstances surrounding the education of African Americans were not substantively different than what our Dreamers face today.”

“The parents of Dreamers contribute faithfully to the real American economy, yet very few colleges and universities offer their children affordable, state-sponsored education, even though they grew up in nearby American cities and towns,” he said.

Dreamers at DSU average a 3.6 GPA and the first cohort had a 92% 4-year graduation rate. In the fall, DSU will have about 175 Dreamers in total.

Sen. Tom Carper called the decision “not just a matter of common sense” but a “matter of common decency.”

“After all, Dreamers are our friends and our neighbors. They live and work in our communities, they go to school, they pay taxes and even serve in our military. And, throughout this pandemic, thousands of Dreamers have been on the front lines fighting this virus and protecting others as doctors, nurses, first responders and more,” he said in a prepared statement.

He called Mr. Trump’s attempt to dismantle the program “not only cruel, but also a short-sighted, self-inflicted wound on our communities and our economy.” The Supreme Court’s ruling was a “sigh of relief,” he added.

“But a temporary sigh of relief isn’t enough. Unfortunately, today’s ruling still allows the Trump Administration to go back to the drawing board and provide different justifications to end the DACA program in the future. It’s time to end this cruel uncertainty once and for all,” he said.

Sen. Chris Coons agreed.

“Today’s decision is a positive step, but Congress must now act to give Dreamers the long-term certainty they deserve,” he said in a prepared statement. “I am convinced that if we work in a bipartisan way, and alongside our communities, we can provide long-term protection to Dreamers so they can continue to pursue the promise of America.”

The 5-4 outcome, in which Chief Justice John Roberts and the four liberal justices were in the majority, seems certain to elevate the issue in Trump’s campaign, given the anti-immigrant rhetoric of his first presidential run in 2016 and immigration restrictions his administration has imposed since then.

The justices rejected administration arguments that the 8-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program is illegal and that courts have no role to play in reviewing the decision to end DACA. The program covers people who have been in the United States since they were children and are in the country illegally. In some cases, they have no memory of any home other than the U.S.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the court that the administration did not pursue the end of the program properly.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients.”

The Department of Homeland Security can try again, he wrote. But any new order to end the program, and the legal challenge it would provoke, would take months, if not longer, immigration experts said.

The court’s four conservative justices dissented. Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, wrote that DACA was illegal from the moment it was created under the Obama administration in 2012. Thomas called the ruling “an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a separate dissent that he was satisfied that the administration acted appropriately in trying to end the program.

The program grew out of an impasse over a comprehensive immigration bill between Congress and the Obama administration in 2012. President Barack Obama decided to formally protect people from deportation while also allowing them to work legally in the U.S.

But Mr. Trump made tough talk on immigration a central part of his campaign and less than eight months after taking office, he announced in September 2017 that he would end DACA.

Immigrants, civil rights groups, universities and Democratic-led states quickly sued, and courts put the administration’s plan on hold.

The Department of Homeland Security has continued to process two-year DACA renewals so that hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients have protections stretching beyond the election and even into 2022.

The Supreme Court fight over DACA played out in a kind of legal slow motion. The administration first wanted the justices to hear and decide the case by June 2018. The justices said no. The Justice Department returned to the court later in 2018, but the justices did nothing for more than seven months before agreeing a year ago to hear arguments. Those took place in November and more than seven months elapsed before the court’s decision.

“Delaware State University will never turn our back on these students, and neither should any American institution that believes in these words, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’” Dr. Allen said.

Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko, Lisa Mascaro and Nomaan Merchant in Houston contributed to this report. Delaware State News reporter Brooke Schultz contributed to this report.