Fourth Circuit Holds Administration Broke Law In Rescinding DACA

May 17, 2019 by Dan McCue
Protesters hold up signs during a rally supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, outside the White House on September 5, 2017. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

A divided Fourth Circuit court ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, otherwise known as DACA, was unlawful because the administration failed to “adequately explain” its decision.

In a majority ruling that echoed an earlier decision by the 9th Circuit, the Virginia-based appeals court said Trump’s termination of the program was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia found that the administration’s termination of the program was “arbitrary and capricious,” in line with a prior ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Attorneys for the administration had argued the decision to rescind DACA was an agency decision, and therefore not subject to requirements for a public comment period under the Administrative Procedure Act.

While the appeals panel accepted this as true, a majority of the judges said officials had not gone far enough in explaining why they had taken the decision.

The judges took particular note of the fact that while then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke rescinded a policy that affected “hundreds of thousands of enrollees” she made not one mention of them in a memo backing her decisions.

They also found that while the administration argued that DACA was unlawful in its decision to end the program, the documents used to back up those claims did not “identify any statutory provision with which the DACA policy conflicts.”

In a dissenting opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Julius Richardson said he believes the Trump administration had the authority to “decide to prosecute, or not prosecute, an individual or a group” as long it’s permitted under the Constitution.

“Here, the Executive’s proper exercise of that discretion to rescind DACA is judicially unreviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act, regardless of one’s view of the policy questions underlying DACA. To hold otherwise permits the Judicial Branch to invade the province of the Executive and impair the carefully constructed separation of powers laid out in our Constitution,” Richardson wrote.

A representative of the Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling.

Preserving DACA is a top Democratic priority, but discussions between Trump and Democrats on the issue have gone nowhere.

President Barack Obama began the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012.

It shielded a group of immigrants known as “Dreamers” and has given them work permits but not a path to citizenship. About 800,000 people, mostly Hispanics, have received DACA protection since then.

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