Supreme Court stokes DACA fight for 2020

The Supreme Court's decision to hear cases on whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day 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 Devi HarrisOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina Sanders endorses Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur for Katie Hill's former House seat Kamala Harris dropped out, but let's keep her mental health plan alive 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 BookerTrump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Booker says he will not make December debate stage White House makes push for paid family leave and child care reform 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 Ann WarrenSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA Bill Weld: As many as six GOP senators privately support convicting Trump 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 GillibrandAdvocacy groups decry Trump's 'anti-family policies' ahead of White House summit This bipartisan plan is the most progressive approach to paid parental leave Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' 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 federal judge blocks Trump from using military funds for border wall California recovers M from auto parts makers' in bid rigging settlement Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings 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 DurbinSenators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina 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 McConnellSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump McConnell says he'll be in 'total coordination' with White House on impeachment trial strategy 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.”