UC Challenges Repeal of DACA at Supreme Court

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Dana Dela Cruz
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON D.C. — The University of California appeared before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Nov. 12, to challenge the Trump administration’s repeal of a program that protects over 700,000 undocumented immigrants including about 1,700 UC students.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was created by UC President Janet Napolitano during her time as President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security. The program shields Dreamers immigrants who were brought to the U.S. unauthorized as children — from deportation after meeting certain criteria and passing an application process. The Trump administration announced its recall of the program in late 2017.

In question at the Supreme Court was whether the administration followed proper legal procedure in repealing DACA. The legality of the program itself is not in question, so a ruling in favor of the UC will not protect DACA from repeals in the future.

The future of Dreamers hangs in the balance. Already, DACA-eligible Dreamers who had not applied at the time of the repeal have been barred from applying to the program. If the Trump administration is allowed to move forward with the rescission of DACA, recipients will lose their work authorization and protection from deportation.

These are young people who have done all that has been asked of them,” UC President Napolitano said just before the hearing. “To remove their DACA protection … and to make them subject to eviction from the only country they know as home is not only not legally required, but it is inconsistent with good immigration policy and inconsistent with our values as a country.”

Outside, temperatures that morning approached freezing. But that didn’t stop warmly-clad protesters from gathering outside the court steps in support of DACA. Mittened hands banged on drums and held signs declaring “Home is here.” Eventually, the rally grew large enough for police to block off part of the street.

They were joined by over 50 UC students. Many of them are spending the term in Washington, D.C., through the UCDC program. Others traveled from their home campuses to attend the rally.

“It’s important for me to attend because, essentially, my life is on the line,” said Maria Vazquez, sociology and political science major and DACA recipient from UCSB.

Vazquez graduates this quarter after completing UCDC and hopes to attend law school. But she’s concerned that the Supreme Court could rule in Trump’s favor, jeopardizing her work authorization and making her vulnerable to deportation.

Still, Vazquez is “really glad” the UC was willing to “stand in solidarity” with undocumented students and their families. 

Joining Vazquez at the rally was her housemate, UC Davis student Jenny Rodriguez. Rodriguez said she wanted to her support as an ally. Rodriguez completed her degree in sociology and Chicanx Studies last spring.  Like Vazquez, she’s spending her final quarter in the UCDC program.

“I have a cousin who has DACA who claims and loves this country more than I do,” Rodriguez said. “These folks are just as patriotic—if not more—because despite being born elsewhere, they consider [America] their home.”

Vazquez and Rodriguez listened and cheered as speakers ingited the crowd and demanded a legal pathway to citizenship for all undocumented people. Both recalled feeling a strong sense of community.

Inside, attorneys for the UC argued that the Trump administration acted arbitrarily in its repeal of DACA, which was announced with little justification in a memo by then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke. The Administrative Procedure Act allows courts to nullify any federal agency action deemed “arbitrary, capricious,” or “unsupported by substantial evidence.” The Trump administration defended the repeal as legal and well-reasoned because DACA was intended to be a temporary measure.

After oral arguments ended just before noon, the plaintiffs and DACA supporters inside the Supreme Court walked out onto the steps with linked arms. The crowd outside chanted, “Undocumented and unafraid.”

Now the country holds its breath. The Supreme Court has until the end of June 2020 to release a ruling. “The justices might be motivated to rule earlier in the spring to avoid influencing the presidential election,” said Alexander Berengaut, one of the attorneys representing the UC, at a UCDC event.

Several national media organizations, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have predicted that the conservative-majority court will rule on the side of the Trump administration, clearing the way for a full DACA repeal. But if that happens, Berengaut said, it’s “unclear” how much the administration can achieve in “the middle of an election year.”

This uncertainty of the future makes Rodriguez feel “anxious.” Her housemate, Vazquez, feels numb. Though her DACA protections are at risk, she said, “whatever happens will happen.”

“The end goal is bigger than DACA,” Vazquez said. “We need a comprehensive immigration reform. A policy that is not based on this ‘good immigrant vs. bad immigrant’ narrative.”

Rodriguez shared the same view.

“Their home is here, and that’s the end of the story,” she said.