Why DACA’s Latest Court Victory Doesn’t Mean Much
The news of the latest win in court for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program didn’t capture headlines in the same way as past court rulings. Last November, when a judge in California blocked the Trump administration from repealing the Obama-era program that protects young, undocumented immigrants, the state’s attorney general called the ruling a “tremendous victory.” But on Friday, when a district court in Virginia reached the same ruling—that President Donald Trump did not follow appropriate administrative procedures in undoing the program—the decision garnered little attention.
Perhaps that’s because this latest ruling doesn’t mean much. By the time the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals submitted its decision on Friday, three other district courts—in California, New York, and Washington, D.C.—had already blocked Trump from undoing DACA.
However, as I wrote last November, this string of court victories for DACA does not mean that program has been saved:
“I see a lot of people call [these court decision] victories,” says Indira Marquez Robles, a DACA recipient attending university in Atlanta. “In a way, I do see it as a victory. But with these victories, there’s no real change. I always feel like it’s more like just holding on.”
Legal experts tend to agree with Marquez Robles. Though DACA has scored a string of legal successes since the Trump administration attempted to end the program, these have done little to protect the program.
One reason these district court rulings haven’t “saved” DACA is that a separate lawsuit making its way through a district court in Texas could spell the beginning of the end of the program. In Houston, the conservative Judge Andrew Hanen (who already struck down parts of President Barack Obama‘s original DACA plan) has a case in front of him that questions not Trump‘s ability to repeal DACA, but rather the constitutionality of the program itself. Though Hanen disappointed conservatives by declining to issue a preliminary injunction halting DACA, the judge has indicated that he intends to ultimately rule against the program—a decision that will likely come later this year.
Hanen’s potential ruling against DACA would place the country in a bizarre legal scenario, in which some judges will have declared it illegal for Trump to undo DACA, and another judge will have ruled that it’s illegal for the government to continue DACA. This means that the Supreme Court will likely take up the case in the fall—and, with five conservative justices on the bench, it’s not unlikely that the program will meet its demise in the nation’s highest court.
DACA currently exists as an exercise of executive power. That means that one of the only sure ways to protect the program and ensure its longevity would be for Congress to pass a bill etching DACA into law. But as Pacific Standard reported earlier this week, DACA is absent from Trump’s latest immigration plan. This means it’s unlikely that the conservative Senate and liberal House of Representatives will suddenly reach a compromise that preserves the program.