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Supreme Court stokes DACA fight for 2020

The Supreme Court's decision to hear cases on whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE lawfully ended Obama-era protections for undocumented immigrants is teeing up the program as a key issue for Democrats in the 2020 presidential election.

Friday's order was a win for the Trump administration after a pair of federal appeals courts ruled that officials’ move to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was unlawful and allowed the protections for “Dreamers” to stay in place.

And the order ensures that the protections for Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, will remain in place as the Supreme Court considers the cases.

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But the timing also means that the justices will likely hand down their ruling on the highly divisive policy as the presidential race reaches a fever pitch in the early summer of 2020.

“Certainly immigration and what we do as a country about immigration is going to be a key issue for the campaign,” Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California and former Obama Homeland Security secretary, told reporters on a call Friday.

The topic was already brought up on the campaign trail ahead of the court’s announcement. Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris blasts GOP for confirming Amy Coney Barrett: 'We won't forget this' GOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg The painstaking, state-by-state fight to protect abortion access MORE (D-Calif.) said during the Democratic presidential debate on Thursday night that if she is elected president, restoring DACA through executive action is the very first thing she will do.

“We cannot forget our DACA recipients, and so I'm going to start there,” she said. 

Democratic candidate Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (N.J.) said on the debate stage one night earlier that he would also put the DACA protections back in place.

And Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenAll fracked up: Biden's Keystone State breakdown What do Google, banks and chicken salad have in common? Final debate: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit MORE (Mass.), another 2020 Democrat, tweeted after the Supreme Court’s order on Friday that she “will fight my heart out to protect Dreamers.”

Immigration has already emerged as a leading theme in the 2020 race, with candidates wrangling over reforms to the current immigration laws during both Democratic debates this week.

At least 11 of the candidates, including former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (D) and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandInternal Democratic poll: Desiree Tims gains on Mike Turner in Ohio House race Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter's handling of New York Post article raises election night concerns | FCC to move forward with considering order targeting tech's liability shield | YouTube expands polices to tackle QAnon Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize MORE (D-N.Y.), traveled to a shelter for migrant children in Homestead, Fla., this week after media reports revealed poor conditions at detention facilities for young migrants.

Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told reporters Friday that the justices will hear arguments on DACA at the “height of the debate” on immigration on the campaign trail.

“This will absolutely play a role, namely because President Trump has made it very clear that he will continue to run on immigration as a way to get reelected,” she said. “And I think the Democratic candidates have an opportunity to show a different vision for the country.”

The Supreme Court’s order Friday combines three lawsuits over the end of DACA filed by a range of parties, including the University of California system, the NAACP, Microsoft and Princeton University, as well as a group of 15 states and the District of Columbia. Several individual DACA recipients are also included in the suits.

And the justices’ recent ruling on the census citizenship question could provide clues about how they will weigh the DACA case.

In a 5-4 ruling Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberal members to find that the Trump administration’s given reason for asking about citizenship on the 2020 census didn’t line up with the facts of the case. The court sent the matter back to the Commerce Department and blocked the question from appearing on the census for the time being. To get the question in front of the court again, the Commerce Department would have to provide a new reason for its inclusion.

California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraSecond court blocks Trump's order to exclude undocumented immigrants from census California Republicans agree not to use unofficial ballot drop boxes Schwarzenegger: California GOP has gone 'off the rails' with unofficial ballot boxes MORE (D), who represents the University of California in its lawsuit, said during a press call Friday that the census ruling “demonstrates that the court’s not going to be fooled by the Trump administration’s clearly disingenuous efforts” to roll back protections.

“It think it proves that judges are watching what basis the federal government has to act by and renege on protections for Americans,” Becerra said.

But another legal challenge over DACA could add a wrinkle to the case: A federal judge in Texas is considering whether the Obama-era program itself is legal in a lawsuit led by the state of Texas.

Judge Andrew Hanen wrote in a ruling last year that he would allow the protections to remain in place for now but that he believes the program is unlawful. Opponents of the program have cast it as an overstep of executive authority by then-President Obama and claim that only Congress should have been able to implement such vast protections.

Joshua Blackman, an associate professor of law at the South Texas College of Law Houston, predicted that Hanen, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, will likely put that case on hold as the Supreme Court considers the challenges to the end of the DACA program.

But he said that the legality of DACA itself will likely have to be resolved sooner rather than later, particularly if a Democratic president wants to bring back the program.

“If the court only holds that the rescission is valid, that doesn't allow the next president to go bring it back in,” Blackman told The Hill. “So then we're back where we started from to decide whether DACA is legal.”

Regardless of the court ruling, there is sure to be pressure on Congress to take action to permanently adopt the protections for Dreamers.

The House earlier this month passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which would permanently block Dreamers from deportation and offer a pathway to citizenship to 2 million immigrants without legal status.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (D-Ill.), who authored the original bipartisan Dream Act, called on the Senate to take up the bill after the Supreme Court’s announcement.

But the chances of the legislation getting a vote are slim to none as long as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote Democrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation GOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg MORE (R-Ky.) controls the floor.

Becerra and Hincapié on Friday both noted that DACA recipients can still renew their status under the program and that the protections last for two years.

More than 373,000 DACA renewal requests have been approved since a national injunction was issued in January 2018 blocking the program's end.

But Hincapié said that if DACA falls in court, she hopes it “will actually light a fire under Congress” to pass a “permanent solution to this issue.”