The 22,000 “Dreamers” living in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware can stay in the United States for now.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedures Act when it ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2017.
In a 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the majority concluded that the administration’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and should be rescinded, but left the door open for the Department of Homeland Security to modify the program in the future.
Local beneficiaries of the program, who had waited in limbo for three years while it wound through the courts, were stunned.
“We were in shock. We were like, is this real?” said New Jersey resident Gloria Blanco, a DACA recipient who came to the U.S. from Colombia when she was nine years old.
“We are excited, especially because we were not expecting that the decision was going to go in favor of the DACA recipients,” she added, with a note of caution. “This could happen again. We don’t know how things are going to go.”
New Jersey ranks in the top 10 states in the country in terms of DACA recipients, with more than 16,000. Nationally, there are around 643,000 people currently enrolled.
Created in 2012 through an executive order by the Obama administration, DACA has provided a temporary reprieve from deportation for young adults who had been brought illegally to the United States as children.
To be eligible for DACA when it was created, undocumented residents had to have lived in the U.S. for at least five years; be younger than 31-years-old; have graduated from high school; and have committed no felonies or major misdemeanors.
In return for submitting personal information to the federal government — the same entity they feared would deport them — DACA recipients get work authorization and a reprieve from deportation. That protection opens the door to higher education and career fields, such as nursing, that they would otherwise be ineligible to enter.
The protection, though, was never enshrined in a law passed by Congress. So the program remained a stopgap for recipients, who had to reapply every two years.
In 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions advised the Department of Homeland Security to cancel the program, arguing that it was likely illegal. The ensuing lawsuits by recipients and advocacy groups eventually landed in the country’s highest court.
The Supreme Court’s decision indicates that the Trump Administration has the power to end DACA, but concludes its reasoning was not sound.
“The dispute before the Court is not whether DHS may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts in the majority opinion.
The DACA program has remained very popular among the public. Nearly three-quarters of Americans approve of permanent legal status for adults who were brought into the United States illegally as children, according to the Pew Research Center.
Katy Sastre, the outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said it was now time for Congress to pass legislation codifying DACA into law.
“What we need is Congress to provide an actual legislative decision to this issue,” she said, warning that the Trump administration could try again to end the program.
“We’re watchful. We know that they can try to rescind the program again and just might get craftier in the way that they do it,” Sastre said.