- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2018

The Supreme Court declined Monday to speed up a case involving the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deportation amnesty, refusing President Trump’s request for immediate action and instead maintaining a lower court ruling that keeps the controversial program in operation.

The justices said they would leave the case to federal appeals courts, but prodded them to move “expeditiously” in issuing rulings, meaning the matter could return to the high court later this year.

For now, the decision means the Obama-era program remains in place, protecting nearly 700,000 illegal immigrant Dreamers from deportation and granting them work permits, renewable every two years. The court decision buys more space for Capitol Hill, where lawmakers were struggling to meet a March 5 deadline on a deal to legalize Dreamers, improve border security and change broader immigration policies.

“Congress now has more time to work together and finally pass a permanent solution for Dreamers,” said Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition. “Trump no longer holds hostage the lives of Dreamers as the legal battle has the possibility of keeping DACA intact as far as 2020.”

Activists urged those who haven’t already applied for a renewal to get their applications in, taking advantage of the window the justices have guaranteed while the legal battle plays out.

Democrats on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, said the court’s ruling won’t diminish their push for a legislative solution.

“The need for the Dream Act is no less urgent,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who for years has led the push for granting full citizenship to Dreamers.

For its part the White House is also pushing for Capitol Hill to continue the debate — though it wants to see a conservative bill combining stiff enforcement measures with a slimmed-down legalization clear the House.

That bill written by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, has support from a majority of House Republicans, but is still shy of the 218 votes needed to clear the chamber, a senior administration official told The Washington Times. Passing that bill is instrumental in the White House’s strategy of putting pressure on the Senate to tilt more toward Mr. Trump’s stance.

“That is really the name of the game — getting a bill out of the House,” the senior official said. “I’m confident they will be able to find a way to get there.”

The White House’s optimism about Congress was matched with pessimism about the looming legal fight — at least in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is likely to take the next crack at the case.

Mr. Trump on Monday criticized the judges on that court, which had previously shot down his travel limits and issued an adverse procedural ruling on DACA. Both of those were changed by the Supreme Court.

The president predicted another repeat.

“I mean, it’s really sad when every single case filed against us is in the 9th Circuit. We lose, we lose, we lose, and then we do fine in the Supreme Court. But what does that tell you about our court system?” he said. “So DACA is going back, and we’ll see what happens from there.”

The 2012 DACA program had been controversial from the start, with even President Obama doubting the legal authority to grant such a broad amnesty from deportation, before he reversed himself and concluded had the power.

Mr. Trump during the campaign had repeatedly said the program was illegal and vowed to nix it, and after some initial mixed signals did just that. His Homeland Security Department last September said it would begin a six-month phaseout, giving some Dreamers a chance to renew applications but saying no new applications would be accepted, and no renewals would be allowed beyond March 5.

Democratic-led states, immigrant-rights activists and others objected and filed lawsuits across the country.

The leading case in California was filed by Janet Napolitano, the former Homeland Security secretary who created the DACA program and who is now president of the University of California. She argued DACA is legal and that her successors at Homeland Security cut too many corners in announcing the phaseout.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup, a Clinton appointee in California, sided with her, and ordered the program be restarted — though only for renewals of people who’d already been granted DACA before. No new applications are allowed.

Another federal judge in New York this month also ruled Mr. Trump’s phaseout illegal — though he explicitly said the president does have the power to cancel the program, if he follows the correct procedures and rules.

The administration didn’t seem keen on that idea, with the senior official telling The Times they are confident in their legal case.

Under Judge Alsup’s ruling the DACA program must allow anyone who previously held status to be able to reapply. But no first-time applications are in order.

The judge said that was the best balance of interests.

He did say his order didn’t require the government to approve any specific applications, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that handles the program, can continue to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis.

USCIS said it has been receiving applications, and some renewals have already been granted. But no data is yet available on how many people have applied or been granted renewed status.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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