The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear the Trump administration’s challenge to a lower court ruling temporarily blocking it from winding down the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The decision delivers a blow to the Trump administration, which argues that DACA is unconstitutional. It also could ease some pressure on Congress to quickly come up with a legislative solution, however, since it means the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will continue to review the case.
The decision comes just a week before a March 5 deadline set by President Trump for Congress to enact legislation to replace the program established by former President Obama. It allows immigrants who entered the country illegally as children to work and go to school in the United States.
The court denied the government’s request that it hear the case without prejudice.
“It is assumed that the court of appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case,” the court said.
The Supreme Court could still agree to hear the case after it is heard by the lower appeals court.
The justices provided no further explanation for their decision. It takes four justices to agree to hear a case.
A White House spokesman said in a statement after the court’s decision that the “clearly unlawful” DACA program benefits “illegal immigrants en masse.”
“The district judge’s decision unilaterally to re-impose a program that Congress had explicitly and repeatedly rejected is a usurpation of legislative authority,” deputy press secretary Raj Shah said.
“The fact that this occurs at a time when elected representatives in Congress are actively debating this policy only underscores that the district judge has unwisely intervened in the legislative process,” he added.
“We look forward to having this case expeditiously heard by the appeals court and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, where we fully expect to prevail.”
Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on a measure to replace Obama’s executive action and has just one full legislative day scheduled before the March 5 deadline.
In exchange for language allowing DACA recipients and other “Dreamers” to remain in the United States and get a path to citizenship, Trump has demanded money for his proposed wall on the Mexican border and changes to two legal immigration programs.
The House remains at an impasse, with leadership officially only considering a bill proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that is widely believed to be unable to pass in the Senate.
The Senate is looking for short-term solutions that would extend DACA for two or three years while a new immigration deal is worked out.
Had the California court — and later a New York court — not enjoined Trump’s order, DACA beneficiaries would have begun to lose their benefits after the deadline.
Nearly 20,000 DACA recipients lost their benefits following the September announcement as they failed to apply for renewal in the month granted to them by the Trump administration.
Under the injunction, beneficiaries who were covered by DACA in September — including those who didn’t renew — are allowed to apply for a two-year renewal of their permit.
The injunction does not protect people who would have aged into DACA, leaving the youngest “Dreamers” subject to deportation and without documentation to allow them to work or go to school.
The nearly 800,000 people who did get DACA status at some point will be allowed to apply for renewal, although the glut of applications is expected to create lapses in coverage for certain beneficiaries. For some, that will mean losing their work permits — and if employed, their jobs — at least temporarily.
Of those 800,000, more than 100,000 left the program by leaving the country, receiving different immigration status or being expelled from the program. Former DACA beneficiaries will be allowed to reapply while the injunction lasts as long as they weren’t removed from the program for criminal or gang behavior.
Since the program’s inception, about 2,000 beneficiaries were expelled from DACA for criminal acts.
The Justice Department’s request to challenge the lower court ruling was rare in that it asked the Supreme Court to jump ahead of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in reviewing the case.
The court typically will only bypass an appellate court when there’s an emergency involving foreign affairs, a serious separation of powers concerns or when it has already agreed to hear another case dealing with the same question.
Andrew Pincus, a Supreme Court litigator and partner at Mayer Brown, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, said the earliest a decision could be expected from the appeals courts would be in June or July.
“We’re certainly looking at a matter of a significant number of months,” said Pincus.
And lawsuits similar to the ones in California and New York are under review in the District of Columbia and Maryland, meaning more similar injunctions could surface in coming months.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said the Trump administration’s attempts to circumvent the appeals process have actually slowed down the process.
“You could let the Trump administration know the court would run its course faster if the Trump administration would stop appealing every decision,” said Becerra.
“They should look no further than the mirror if they have concerns about why they don’t have success,” he added.
Theodore Boutrous Jr., a partner at Gibson Dunn who’s representing the six DACA recipients in the challenge with Becerra and the board of regents of California’s universities, praised the court for allowing the normal appellate process to play out.
“DACA is a lawful and important program that protects young people who came to this country as children and who know this country as their only home,” he said in a statement.
“The Dreamers have relied on DACA to make decisions about their education, jobs, and families and to make valuable contributions to society as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and members of the military.”
Boutrous added that he’s confident the court of appeals will affirm the district court’s injunction. His office said the appellate court is not likely to hear arguments in the case before May.