The Supreme Court could decide the fate of the DACA policy within the next two years. DACA provides protection from deportation and gives legal work authorization to roughly 600,000 undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as young children. A recent federal court decision will likely send the case to the Supreme Court; if the Justices choose to hear the case, their ruling will likely determine once and for all if those protections can remain in place.
“1,000 DACA recipients will be forced out of their jobs every business week for two years if DACA renewals end.”
The Supreme Court could decide within the next year whether to hear a case about the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
Judge Andrew Hanen, a federal judge in the U.S. Southern District of Texas, recently issued a ruling declaring that the DACA program is illegal, While Judge Hanen’s most recent ruling will not impact DACA recipients’ current protections or their ability to continue to renew them, the decision is another cruel and disheartening indication that the courts plan to terminate this vital lifeline for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants and their families.
Judge Hanen’s ruling is not the final step. The case will likely be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which also previously ruled against DACA. Assuming the Fifth Circuit rules the same way again, the Biden Administration would then likely file a request with the Supreme Court to hear the case. Because of how the Supreme Court chooses and hears cases, the petition for certification may not be answered until 2024, and if granted, the case may not be heard and decided until at least 2025.
Considering the current makeup of the Court and its previous immigration decisions, there’s a good chance the Justices could also rule against DACA. If the Court ultimately upholds Judge Hanen’s ruling, and if the Court prohibits the government from processing DACA renewals, the 600,000 current DACA recipients could be stripped of their ability to work legally, and would be exposed to the threat of deportation.
If DACA renewals are ended, an estimated 1,000 DACA recipients would be forced out of their jobs every week for the next two years.
“DACA litigation has created overwhelming uncertainty for recipients and prevents the government from processing requests from new applicants."
For half a decade, DACA has faced protracted litigation that has created overwhelming uncertainty for current recipients, and has prevented the government from processing requests from new applicants.
The legal odyssey began in 2017 when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration was ending the DACA policy. Several lawsuits were filed to keep DACA in place, and federal judges decided in their favor, determining that the Trump administration had violated federal procedure by ending DACA without a formal process. The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to review the cases; in 2020, the Court issued a 5-4 decision affirming that the Trump administration had not followed the proper procedures. This decision kept DACA in place, though the Court deliberately said nothing about the underlying legality of the policy itself.
Meanwhile, a separate legal challenge was launched by a coalition of Republican attorneys general. They sued the U.S. government, arguing that the DACA policy is unlawful and directly harms their states. The case came before Judge Hanen in the Southern Texas District Court, and in 2021 he sided with the states. Judge Hanen asserted that DACA was illegal because the Obama administration had skirted the formal rulemaking process, and that DACA’s protections went beyond the government’s authority.
Judge Hanen’s 2021 decision prohibited the government from processing new applications, but it allowed current DACA recipients to retain their protections and to file for renewals while the Biden administration went through a new formal rulemaking process to bolster the program.
The Biden administration appealed Judge Hanen’s decision; in 2022, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Hanen’s determination that the original DACA policy was unlawful, but sent the case back to Judge Hanen to consider the legality of the new formal DACA rule issued by the Biden administration. Despite this new rulemaking process, Judge Hanen has ruled again that DACA is illegal. The Biden administration may now appeal that decision, requesting the Fifth Circuit to review the new ruling.
Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton threatens to file a lawsuit against the federal government if the DACA policy is not rescinded by September 5th, 2017.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces the Trump Administration’s decision to end DACA.
United States District Court for the Northern District of California issues a preliminary injunction to prevent the Trump administration from ending DACA in the case of Regents of the University of California, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security. The injunction orders the federal government to continue processing DACA renewal requests.
The Trump administration files a petition for a writ of certiorari, requesting the Supreme Court hear a direct appeal of the Regents of the University of California, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York issues an injunction against the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA, blocking the repeal. The court rules that the Trump administration’s attempt to repeal the initiative was “arbitrary and capricious,” a decision which applies in the cases of Batalla Vidal v. Nielsen and State of New York v. Trump.
The Supreme Court denies the Trump administration’s request for a writ of certiorari in Regents of the University of California, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security.
United States District Court for the District of Columbia orders DHS to continue processing DACA requests and renewals, giving DHS ninety days to better explain the legal decision to rescind DACA. The cases involved are NAACP v. Trump, et al., and Trustees of Princeton, et al. v. United States of America, et al.
Texas v. United States, a lawsuit challenging the lawfulness of DACA, is filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, six years after DACA was first put in place. The case is remanded to Judge Andrew Hanen.
At the end of their ninety-day deadline, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia orders DHS to revive DACA. The court determined that the ending of DACA was “arbitrary” and “capricious.” The Trump administration is given twenty days to comply.
The Trump administration requests a writ of certiorari for the second time in the case of Regents of the University of California, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security, and for the first time in the cases of Batalla Vidal v. Nielsen and NAACP v. Trump, asking the Supreme Court to take up the cases before decisions are issued in the related appeals cases.
A three judge panel in the Ninth Circuit upholds the preliminary injunction issued in Regents of the University of California v. Department of Homeland Security that kept DACA renewals going. The court reasoned that the plaintiffs in the case were likely to prevail on their claim that the Trump administration’s termination of DACA was “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore unlawful.
The Supreme Court grants review of three petitions related to the Trump administration’s attempts to end DACA: Regents, Batalla Vidal, and NAACP.
The Supreme Court issues a 5-4 decision, finding that the Trump administration’s termination of DACA was (1) judicially reviewable and (2) done in an arbitrary and capricious manner, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The decision keeps DACA in place.
New York District Court for the Eastern District of New York orders that DACA be fully reinstated in the Batalla Vidal case, ordering DHS to continue accepting new applications and renewals.
Judge Hanen hears oral arguments in Texas v. United States, the lawsuit challenging DACA's legality.
Judge Hanen issues his decision in the case of Texas v. United States, declaring that DACA is unlawful because of procedural errors made in its implementation. Noting the reliance interest of current DACA recipients, Hanen temporarily stays the injunction “as to individuals who obtained DACA on or before July 16, 2021,” which in practice permits DACA renewals. He holds that DACA is inconsistent with statutory immigration law set forth under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
DHS proposes a new DACA rule for public comment. The rule is in part an attempt to answer claims that DACA was not properly implemented, by undergoing a formal rulemaking process with public notice and comment. The rule makes very little practical change to DACA.
Oral argument takes place at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for the Texas v. United States case.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas upholds Judge Hanen’s determination that the 2012 DACA memorandum is unlawful, but remands the case back to Judge Hanen to determine the legality of the newly finalized DACA rule.
The new DACA rule goes into effect, an attempt by the Biden administration to remedy the procedural errors to which Judge Hanen had previously objected.
Judge Hanen hears oral arguments in the case of Texas v. United States, focusing on the newly finalized DACA rule. A decision in the case is expected to follow in the coming months.
Judge Hanen issued a ruling once again declaring the DACA policy illegal, despite the Biden administration's new rulemaking efforts. The administration is expected to appeal the decision, once again sending the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“DACA has been a transformative policy, keeping families together and helping young people build their lives and careers in the country they have known as home.”
The DACA policy was implemented in 2012 by then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. The Obama administration intended the policy to provide temporary protections for undocumented children—often called Dreamers—while Congress worked to create a pathway to permanent legal status. However, Congress has failed to pass any meaningful legislation for Dreamers in the 11 years since DACA was established.
In that time, DACA has been a transformative policy. With DACA, the overwhelming majority of recipients has graduated high school, and nearly half have attained some college education. Most DACA recipients are working: more than three-quarters of DACA recipients participate in the labor force, contributing an estimated $13.3 billion to the U.S. economy each year. Some 300,000 DACA recipients work in industries with labor shortages, including healthcare, business services, and education. About a third are married, and more than a third have at least one child at home. Nearly 1.1 million U.S. citizens live in households with a DACA recipient.
Unfortunately, DACA’s eligibility requirements have not been updated since the policy was announced. DACA applicants must have been in the U.S. since 2007, meaning individuals who could qualify today could be no younger than 16. And even if applicants can meet these requirements, the legal challenges have prevented the government from processing new applications. All told, about 2 million Dreamers currently living in the U.S. are not protected by DACA.
This includes as many as 400,000 individuals who would be eligible to receive DACA status, but cannot have their application processed because of Judge Hanen’s injunction, according to FWD.us estimates. In fact, nearly all undocumented high school students graduating this year, and in the years to come, will be ineligible for DACA.
DACA has kept families together and helped young people build their lives and careers in the country they have known as home. The future of this transformative policy, and the futures of the thousands of people people who have been protected by it for more than a decade, could be decided by the Supreme Court within the next two years.
While Congress must ultimately act to create a pathway to permanent status for DACA recipients and Dreamers, there are actions the Biden administration can and must do now to begin implementing a comprehensive Dreamer Protection Plan before it’s too late.