Supreme Court upholds DACA, protecting thousands in higher ed

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a 5-4 ruling that blocks the Trump administration from immediately ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The nation’s nearly 800,000 existing DACA recipients, potential participants, and higher education leaders commended and celebrated the long-awaited decision. Around 454,000 U.S. college students are undocumented, and nearly half of those students are eligible for DACA, Inside Higher Ed reports.

“After months of awaiting this decision, we join hundreds of thousands of immigrant families in feeling a deep sense of relief,” wrote Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, reiterating the university’s longstanding support for and advocacy on behalf of undocumented students, students with DACA protection, and students on a temporary protected status.

Calling for “a permanent legislative solution to ensure the safety and well-being of our young people who contribute to the future of our country in deeply meaningful ways,” DeGioia said that Georgetown University leaders “will continue to strongly advocate for permanent legal protection for our young people, who are integral members of our university community and our nation, and we remain deeply dedicated to creating a context in our community where all of our young people can flourish.”

Ruling cites ‘arbitrary and capricious’ effort to end DACA

President Obama started the DACA program in 2012 to give undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 protection from deportation and a chance to apply for college and jobs. In September 2017, the Trump administration announced plans to rescind the program, prompting lawsuits, which led to nationwide injunctions issued by U.S. district courts in California, New York, and the District of Columbia.

The nation’s highest court agreed to consider a challenge to those injunctions and in November heard arguments in three cases challenging the legality of the way the administration ended the DACA program. In the meantime, existing DACA recipients have been able to renew their permits, but no new applications have been processed, leaving many applicants in a state of limbo.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “[w]e do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies”; rather, the justices “address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.” The decision states that the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to rescind the DACA program was “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The ruling leaves room for the administration to try again to terminate the program. However, according to The New York Times, “that process is likely to take many months, putting the administration’s assault on the program in limbo until after the November election.” Administration officials also “might not want to end such a popular program in the heat of a presidential campaign,” NBC News notes.

Ted Mitchell, president of The American Council on Education, said in a statement sent to Education Dive that he hopes Congress will enact permanent, legal protections for DACA recipients. “For far too long, lawmakers used the pending Supreme Court decision as an excuse for inaction,” he wrote.

Sweeping implications for higher ed, health care

Stakeholders throughout higher education have been closely tracking the DACA case, given the program’s implications for undocumented students’ ability to apply for college, financial aid, study abroad opportunities, internships, and jobs. DACA also gives certain students access to in-state tuition rates and the ability to apply for private loans.

Many universities had spoken up in favor of continuing the DACA program. Georgetown University in October joined a number of colleges and universities in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the DACA program. Similarly, the American Council on Education and 43 other higher education associations filed an amicus brief protesting the unfair disruption of students’ lives and plans.

Related: Georgetown urges Supreme Court to allow DACA to continue >

“DACA is inarguably one of the most successful policies of immigrant integration of the last three decades,” says Harvard University professor Roberto Gonzales. Around 20,000 DACA beneficiaries currently work as teachers, while 50,000 work in health-related fields. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of American Medical Colleges had told the Supreme Court that the U.S. was unprepared “to fill the loss that would result if DACA recipients were excluded from the health care workforce.”

‘Hope I haven’t felt in a very long time’

Reacting to the ruling, DACA recipients and their allies celebrated the decision and conveyed their hope for a permanent legislative solution. Telling NBC News that now she can apply to law school, Kassandra Aleman, a deputy training director for the Texas Democratic Party and a DACA recipient 26, said she is “over the moon,” adding that “just knowing that I can move forward with my life for the time being gave me the hope I haven’t felt in a very long time.”

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is a win for us all, but especially for the 216,000 DACA-eligible immigrants enrolled in higher education,” wrote Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, of which Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia is a founding member.

Calling the decision “a shocking and unexpected glimmer of hope in an increasingly turbulent and difficult time for immigrant youth,” Jose Magaña-Salgado, the Presidents’ Alliance’s director of policy and communications and a DACA Recipient, said he hopes “that today’s decision marks the beginning of a transformation of our nation’s immigration policies away from division and deportation and toward protecting all immigrants.”

Learn more about Georgetown’s resources for undocumented students at

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