WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference (USCCB) praised the Supreme Court on Thursday for a decision that keeps the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program intact — for now.
“First, to DACA youth, through today’s decision and beyond, we will continue to accompany you and your families. You are a vital part of our Church and our community of faith. We are with you,” said USCCB president Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and the USCCB’s migration committee chair in a June 18 statement.
In a majority opinion written mostly by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan, the Court said that that the Department of Homeland Security failed to meet the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) standard of providing “a reasoned explanation” for its ending DACA in September of 2017. Roberts wrote the opinion except for Part IV; Justice Sonia Sotomayor also joined the opinion except for that section.
Justice Clarence Thomas, meanwhile, concurred with the judgement in part and dissented in part, and his opinion was joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Justices Alito and Brett Kavanaugh wrote separate opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part from the majority opinion.
Leading U.S. bishops praised the Court’s decision on Thursday.
The DHS “failed to consider” the impact its rule would have on DACA recipients, the Court said, as well as “whether to retain forbearance.”
“That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner,” the ruling stated.
The Court sent the matter back to DHS, saying it could end the program but had to do so in a lawful fashion.
Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Dorsonville urged President Trump “to strongly reconsider terminating DACA,” citing the plight of immigrant families during the new coronavirus pandemic. To end the program “needlessly places many families into further anxiety and chaos,” they said.
DACA was created by the Obama administration in 2012 through an executive memorandum, to allow for the delayed deportation of certain immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children; with a two-year deferral of deportation, they could apply for work authorizations and certain federal benefits. Around 800,000 immigrants were DACA recipients.
In September of 2017, the Trump administration announced that the program would be phased out and would not accept new applicants; President Trump gave Congress a six-month timeframe to enact parts of the program into law, but Congress failed to do so by March 2018.
In their statement, Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Dorsonville asked the Senate to pass legislation granting a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
On Thursday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor concurred with the majority opinion in part, adding that as the Court “forecloses any challenge to the rescission under the Equal Protection Clause,” that action was “unwarranted.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, concurred with the majority opinion in part and dissented in part.
The Obama administration, he said, created the DACA program in 2012 “without any statutory authorization and without going through the requisite rulemaking process,” after Congress repeated tried and failed to pass legislation granting legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
The Trump administration also acted “unilaterally, and through a mere memorandum” in ending the program, he wrote. Rather than rule that the program was unlawful to begin with, the Court simply sent the matter back to DHS to be reworked rather than leave the policymaking to Congress, he said.
“The Court could have made clear that the solution respondents seek must come from the Legislative Branch. Instead, the majority has decided to prolong DHS’ initial overreach by providing a stopgap measure of its own,” he wrote.
When the current case was accepted by the Supreme Court in November, then-USCCB migration chair, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, told CNA that while the conference had pushed for Congress to enact a legislative solution, the bishops did not want to see the program end and immigrants separated from their families. Around 256,000 children have at least one parent with DACA status.
“The Church is always going to advocate on the side of the family, because the family is very important," Bishop Vasquez said.