Supreme Court DACA decision confirms executive branch action not absolute, expert says

On June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the nearly 800,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” who came to the U.S. as children. The Trump administration sought to end DACA but the 5 to 4 decision from the highest court struck down the attempt.

In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established DACA for immigrants who came to the U.S. before they were 16 years old. To be eligible, a person also has to be under the age of 31 and a continuous U.S. resident since June 15, 2007. They must be enrolled in school, be a high school or GED graduate or have an honorable discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard or a military branch. They cannot be a convicted felon or have a significant misdemeanor on their records. Results of a survey released yesterday from Pew Research show nearly 75 percent of U.S. adults support “Dreamers,” almost all of whom were born in the Latin America and Caribbean regions.

Erin Corcoran
Erin Corcoran

“The Supreme Court decision issued by the chief justice today on DACA is significant for two important reasons,” said Erin Corcoran, executive director of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and a faculty member at the Keough School of Global Affairs.

“First, the court, relying on the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), confirms that while the executive branch may have broad authority over federal agency decisions, this authority has limits. In particular, Congress has legislated through the APA that when an agency, in this case DHS, reverses a previous agency decision, they must provide an adequate and reasonable explanation for a reversal and such change in agency policy cannot be arbitrary or capricious. The Supreme Court found that it had jurisdiction to review this executive branch action and DHS's reversal of the DACA policy that was established under the Obama Administration and also held that DHS's decision violated the APA,” she said.

Today’s Supreme Court decision was in line with what lower courts found: That in its effort to dismantle DACA, the Trump administration did not do so legally and did not consider how discontinuing the program would violate the rights of DACA recipients.

“The second reason the ruling is significant is the individuals who were granted deferred action under the Obama administration had relied on this immigration status and so DHS was required to address this reliance in making a drastic reversal in immigration policy. DHS failed to do so,” Corcoran said. “Today the Supreme Court confirmed that executive branch action, even on matters where they have broad discretion, such as immigration, is not absolute.” 


Contact: Erin Corcoran,

Originally published by Colleen Sharkey at on June 18, 2020.