The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday by a 5-4 vote blocked President Donald Trump's administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, protecting undocumented young immigrants from deportation.
In a ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court said the administration violated a federal administrative law by failing to give a "reasoned explanation" when it announced a decision to wind down the program in 2017.
Roberts said in the majority ruling that the court wasn't deciding whether terminating DACA was a sound policy. Rather, "We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action," the chief justice wrote.
Santa Clara County officials said during a press conference on Thursday morning that the decision is a significant victory. In 2017, the county sued to challenge the Trump administration's repeal of DACA, a decision that the Board of Supervisors supported unanimously.
Nearly 14,000 people were immediately eligible for DACA in 2016 in Santa Clara County and an estimated 50,000 are in the age category that would make them eligible if other criteria are met — being under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and if they came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
"Today's Supreme Court decision is a victory for all Americans and a repudiation of the Trump administration's heartless, anti-immigrant policies," county Counsel James R. Williams said in a statement. "We challenged the DACA repeal to vindicate the rights of hardworking young immigrants to pursue their dreams and contribute to the only country they have ever called home — including, now, in critical roles as frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19. Under today's decision, these hardworking young immigrants, including thousands of Santa Clara County residents, can continue to live, study, and work without fear."
County officials noted that DACA recipients have been particularly vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationwide, an estimated 200,000 DACA recipients are working in essential roles during the coronavirus crisis. An estimated 30,000 are health care workers who are working on the front lines during the pandemic, Supervisor Susan Ellenberg noted during the press conference.
Cindy Chavez, president of the county's Board of Supervisors, said during the press conference that there is much more work to be done.
"It's sometimes unbelievable what our country is doing to children in our society. And it includes the Trump administration willingly separating children from their parents and targeting young people and making them political pawns," she said.
"What is so powerful to me about each of these DACA recipients is they came out of the shadow when it was a scary time to do it and they not only stood up for their right to petition the government but they stood up for their families, they stood up for other young people and they stood up for our nation. They inspired us.
"There couldn't be a better time to look to our youth" for inspiration and direction, she added. "You taught us how to dream again."
Supervisor Dave Cortese said he has a DACA recipient in his office who prepared and analyzed the Supreme Court ruling for him.
"DACA is four letters that represent a lifeline for a lot of people — the only lifeline (for) hundreds of thousands of youth in the United States of America and Santa Clara County," he said in part.
"It's easy to forget sometimes that our nation has a dark history, having become a land of prosperity sometimes at the cost of diminishing others. What DACA has symbolically done is stand on the right side of history by uplifting those who would otherwise be oppressed," he said.
David Campos, deputy county executive who oversees the Division of Equity and Social Justice, said during the press conference that the Supreme Court's decision was personally emotional. He arrived in the United States as a child and was undocumented.
"I know what it's like to live in the shadows," he said.
Campos and other county leaders said during the press conference the reality is they cannot rest. Williams, the county's counsel, said Santa Clara County would continue to push against the Trump administration's acts when they are unlawful and unconstitutional.
Although the Supreme Court found the Trump administration's reasons for rescinding DACA are "arbitrary and capricious," the movement to secure the program's future can't rely on protections of "temporary relief from a slim majority at court," county Chief Operating Offficer Miguel Marquez said.
Santa Clara County currently has 15 DACA recipients working in a variety of positions, including as social workers and as legal analysts. Five DACA recipients spoke during the press conference.
Eva Martinez, a San Jose State University graduate student who is studying to be a social worker, said that yesterday she and her mother were filled with anxiety and worry and "a little bit of fear" as they awaited the Supreme Court decision.
"There's still a lot of work to be done for the immigrant community, for the Hispanic community. There's still a lot of hope and a lot more ground to cover. … We want to provide good for the community that watched us grow up," she said.
In a statement issued Thursday, Rep. Anna Eshoo called the decision "a source of hope for the approximately 650,000 Dreamers and all Americans who still believe in the promise of the American dream.
"This is the only home the Dreamers have ever known and loved and they should be able to live up to their full potential, contribute to our country, and, in the words of The New Colossus etched into the Statue of Liberty, 'to breathe free,'" the Palo Alto congresswoman said.
"The Trump Administration’s attempt to rescind DACA was struck down as illegal, but today's ruling does not prevent the Administration from trying again. Only Congress can provide permanent protections and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The House has done its part by passing the Dream Act, which I proudly voted for and have supported since it was originally introduced. The Senate must do the same and make these critical protections the law of the land."
The court sent the case to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to reconsider the dispute. It said the agency does have the authority to terminate the program if it gives an adequate explanation.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra represented the state of California in one of the lawsuits challenging the termination of the program which was established by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2012.
University of California President Janet Napolitano, who filed another of the lawsuits, called the ruling "a victory for hundreds of thousands of young people who are making vital contributions to their families, schools, employers, and the nation."
The high court ruled on preliminary injunctions issued by federal judges in San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. in a total of about nine lawsuits.
Santa Clara County provides multiple resources to support DACA recipients. The County's Office of Immigrant Relations works with other county departments, community-based organizations and educational institutions to offer services to DACA recipients and their families, including legal services. The county has provided funding to community-based organizations to cover application fees for those who could not afford to pay for their DACA renewal. The Office of Immigrant Relations since 2017 has hosted and coordinated the New Americans Fellowship program, which is tailored toward DACA recipients The program provides career development, research experience and exposure to local government operations. Fellows are placed in various county departments to develop professional skills and offer their perspectives.
Information on Santa Clara County resources for the DACA program is available at sccgov.org.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.