The Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration Thursday from going ahead with its plan, announced in 2017, to end a program called DACA that protects about 700,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.
The ruling did not address the merits of the program or the decision to end it; the court ruled only on whether the administration had acted lawfully in trying. The White House is free to try again.
Still, the 5-4 ruling, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining with the court’s four more liberal justices, was a significant setback for President Donald Trump, who had promised in his election campaign to “immediately terminate” the program.
Here’s what DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, is all about.
What is DACA?
The program was introduced in 2012 by President Barack Obama as a stopgap measure to shield from deportation people who were brought into the United States as children and did not have citizenship or legal residency status. The protection lasts for two years at a time and is renewable. The program does not provide a pathway to citizenship.
Participation in the program comes with a range of benefits. Along with permission to remain in the country, recipients can also get work permits and can obtain health insurance from employers who offer it.
The ability to work legally has also allowed them to pay for school, pursue higher education and, in some states, to obtain driver’s licenses. They can qualify for in-state tuition and state-funded educational grants and loans in some states. Depending on where they live, they may also qualify for state-subsidized health insurance.
Where does DACA stand now?
Since the Trump administration moved to end it in 2017, no new applications have been accepted, but immigrant advocates have managed to keep it partially alive for existing participants through legal challenges. Lower courts have decided that people who already have protected status would be able to renew it until the Supreme Court issued a final ruling.
The court’s decision Thursday maintains that status quo. The Trump administration must now either give up trying to end DACA, or else provide a lower court with a more robust justification for ending it than it has offered so far. That process is likely to take many months, putting the administration’s assault on the program in limbo until after the November election.
Who are the Dreamers?
DACA recipients are often referred to as Dreamers, after a similar piece of legislation called the Dream Act, which was introduced in 2001 and would have given its beneficiaries a path to U.S. citizenship as well as protection from deportation.
On average, people shielded by DACA are now in their mid-20s; the oldest are in their late 30s. The vast majority were brought to the United States from Mexico, although many others were born in Central or South America, Asia or the Caribbean.
To qualify, an applicant had to be enrolled in high school or already have a diploma or GED, or have served in the military. Contrary to what Trump has said, people with serious criminal histories (meaning a felony or serious misdemeanor conviction, or three convictions for any type of misdemeanor) are not eligible.
Why was the DACA program begun?
Obama created it through an executive order in 2012 after more than a decade of failed negotiations in Congress over how to deal with the Dreamers. The Dream Act was never passed, but it gained widespread support among voters and, at various points, in each house of Congress.
Why is Trump trying to eliminate it?
After equivocating publicly over the program, Trump announced in 2017 that he would end DACA after nine conservative state attorneys general with hard-line views on immigration threatened to sue him, arguing that Obama had overreached his authority in creating it. Trump called on Congress to come up with a replacement.
His rescission order offered only the overreach argument, not any other reason for scrapping the program. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that it was not legally sufficient.