If the challengers to the Trump rollback of DACA prevail, it would mark a significant break from a pattern of 5-4, conservative-liberal, decisions favoring the administration.
Trump’s travel ban, which traced to his early days in office, “is an act that is well within executive authority and could have been taken by any other President,” Roberts wrote.
He stressed that the court was considering “the authority of the Presidency itself,” rather than focusing on past statements Trump had made.
In a dissenting opinion focused on Trump’s anti-Muslim comments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “Our Constitution demands, and our country deserves a judiciary willing to hold the coordinate branches to account when they defy our most sacred legal commitments.”
In a separate dispute last year, the five justices on the right blocked a lower court order against Trump as he redirected appropriated funds to build a wall at the southern border. “Wow! Big VICTORY on the Wall,” Trump said on Twitter last July, adding: “Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law!”
Earlier this year, the same court majority allowed the administration to go forward with a new income-related test for immigrants seeking green cards. The policy would deny permanent legal status to those applicants who even occasionally apply for Medicaid, food stamps, or other public assistance.
What a DACA ruling could mean
In 2017, soon after Trump came to office, his administration declared it would wind down the DACA program that allows work permits for certain immigrants who came as children without proper papers. The Trump plan was challenged by California, New York and other states, along with the Regents of the University of California and immigrant rights groups.
Yet Roberts also questioned how ending DACA would affect the hundreds of thousands of young people who have relied on its benefits and are living and working in the United States.
US Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who defended the Trump plan, told the justices, “DACA was always meant to be a temporary stopgap measure that could be rescinded at any time. … I don’t think anybody could have reasonably assumed that DACA was going to remain in effect in perpetuity.”
Some challengers contend today’s public health crisis reinforces the current reliance of state and local governments on health care providers who are DACA recipients.
New executive order
The pandemic has separately prompted new Trump measures to prevent foreigners from coming to the US. In addition to travel restrictions on China and Europe under federal immigration law, the administration has invoked a health-emergency act that dates to 1944 to swiftly remove migrants, including children, arrested at the border.
Late Monday night, Trump wrote on Twitter, “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens. I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”
Critics said Wednesday’s suspension on green cards lacked valid grounds and would hurt families and employers waiting for green card applicants overseas.
“The proclamation is nothing less than an attempt to unilaterally override through presidential fiat the entire legal immigration system,” said Stanford University law professor Lucas Guttentag, a veteran immigrant-rights lawyer, “to serve the White House’s longstanding goal of savaging family immigration admissions.”
The President justified his order on the current economic turmoil and job market.
“This order will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens,” Trump said on Wednesday. “Crucially, we’ll also preserve our health care resources for American patients. We have to take care of our patients, we have to take care of our great American workers.”