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Supreme Court rules in favor of U., temporarily protects status of DACA recipients

daca supreme court brad chris

Chris Eisgruber '83, Maria De La Cruz Perales Sanchez '18, and Brad Smith '81 speak to reporters outside of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Photo Credit: Benjamin Ball / The Daily Princetonian

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the University, blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

While welcoming the decision, the University emphasized a need for legislative reform on the issue of immigration — a view shared by many immigrants and activists. 


Today, the Supreme Court announced its decision on the case Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, the consolidation of a series of suits pertaining to the revocation of DACA by the Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including a complaint by the University — one of the first suits challenging the program’s termination. 

The 5–4 decision saw Chief Justice John Roberts join Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan ’81, Sonia Sotomayor ’76, and Stephen Breyer. Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito ’72, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh each wrote their own opinions dissenting and concurring in part. 

“Princeton University filed this suit because our success as a world-class teaching and research university depends on our ability to attract and support talented students from all backgrounds,” President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 noted in a statement to The Daily Princetonian. “Today’s carefully reasoned Supreme Court decision rightly protects DACA beneficiaries against arbitrary agency action.”

Eisgruber added that while welcoming the Court’s decision, the University recognizes “that the Dreamers’ future, and our own future, will depend on legislation that gives them a clear path to citizenship.”

“Princeton will continue to advocate on behalf of DACA beneficiaries and the many other immigrants whose talent, hard work, and creativity contribute so vitally to this University and to our country,“ Eisgruber noted.


DACA, a program implemented in 2012 by executive order, allows some undocumented individuals who were brought to the country as children to defer deportation and gain eligibility for work permits. 

Ana Mariana Sotomayor Palomino ’22, a DACA recipient, told the ‘Prince’ that they “feel a little bit more comfortable about my future” in light of this decision.

“Leading up to this decision, with the uncertainty that is DACA, one feels a lot of anxiety,” they added. “Once I heard the news — it was really early in the morning — and I just thought, ‘Okay, I’m not going to be facing deportation today.’” 

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In 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Homeland Security terminated DACA on President Donald Trump's order. This termination was contested by several states and these cases were tried in multiple lower courts, including the case Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California. The Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari on June 28, 2019, which consolidated the case with two others and allowed the Court to review the lower courts’ decisions. 

The University’s complaint was in partnership with Microsoft President and University trustee Brad Smith ’81 and DACA recipient and activist María Perales Sánchez ’18 in November 2017 — one of the first challenges to the Trump administration policy change. Sotomayor Palomino told the ‘Prince’ that they appreciated that the University “took the time and effort to actually bring an undocumented voice into the Supreme Court and into consideration.”

There have been many additional complaints to the Supreme Court after Trump’s executive order ending the DACA program.  

In November 2019, the Court heard oral arguments on two issues relating to DACA: whether the rescission of DACA was immune from judicial review and outside the scope of the court’s jurisdiction, and if the rescission by the Trump administration and DHS was legal under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

More recently, the Court considered a briefing from the National Immigration Law Center citing DACA recipients’ positive impacts on the nation’s fight against COVID-19, noting that about 27,000 recipients are health care workers and nearly 200 are medical students.

While the Opinion acknowledged a report that excluding DACA recipients from the labor force could result in the “loss of $215 billion in economic activity and an associated $60 billion in federal tax revenue over the next ten years,” the Court did not rule on the merits or legality of DACA itself.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. ‘The wisdom’ of those decisions ‘is none of our concern,’” the Opinion noted. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”

Despite joining the majority of the Opinion written by Roberts, Justice Sotomayor ’76 dissented in part — specifically in regards to the ruling that the Plaintiffs “failed to establish a plausible inference that the rescission was motivated by animus.” 

In her own Opinion, Sotomayor wrote that President Trump’s statements during and after the 2016 campaign — including quotes “comparing undocumented immigrants to ‘animals’ responsible for ‘the drugs, the gangs, the cartels, and the crisis of smuggling and trafficking’” — create a “strong perception” that the rescission of DACA “was ‘contaminated by impermissible discriminatory animus.’” 

“The impact of the policy decision must be viewed in the context of the President’s public statement on and off the campaign trail,” she wrote. “... I would not so readily dismiss the allegation that an executive decision disproportionately harms the same racial group that the President branded as less desirable mere months earlier.”

This ruling is not the end of the battle for DACA. The Opinion specifically noted that it is within the power of DHS to end DACA but that the method by which it did so was illegal.  

As this case was primarily regarding the procedure that DHS and the Trump administration followed in rescinding DACA, and the majority opinion written by Roberts states that “[w]hether DACA is illegal is, of course, a legal determination and therefore a question for the Attorney General.” He goes on to state that there are policy options for the DHS in moving forward with DACA. 

For now, however, the legal status of DACA recipients remains protected under law. 

Upon learning of the Court’s decisions, Perales Sánchez — who now works at a Baltimore nonprofit that defends migrants’ rights — said that “Today, we celebrate a positive decision being well aware that we still need a permanent legislative solution that includes all 11 million of us — our families, our siblings, our parents, and folks who don’t fit the ‘Dreamer’ criteria.”

“This decision benefits 700,000 DACA recipients, but I always want to point out that the immigration rights advocacy movement is fighting for the protection of 11 million undocumented immigrants,“ Sotomayor Palomino added.

“We need to think about how even our narrative as undocumented immigrants — the ‘good immigrants’ who are Ivy League educated and who go into the much more esteemed professions — how that creates a divide within the undocumented community,“ they added. “My mom has been going to DACA protests, but I always think about how DACA wasn’t meant to protect her.”

Sotomayor Palomino added that while this ruling — coming on the heels of an earlier Supreme Court decision prohibiting workplace discrimination against transgender individuals — “gives people a little bit of hope, and perhaps some joy” during a difficult time, they hope that “the undocumented community takes this moment to unify and really be intentional with our activism.”

“Because of the racial injustice that even citizens are facing right now, I think this ultimately propels the movement toward fighting for the liberation of all,” they added. “In light of the protests against police brutality happening across the country, I want us to also think about our Black undocumented peers [...] who face a higher risk of being stopped and ultimately detained.”

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