The United States Supreme Court will begin oral arguments in a case surrounding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program next Tuesday, continuing a years-long battle between the University of California and the Trump administration.     

Aly Witmer and Hannah Appel / Daily Nexus

The case — Department of Homeland Security, et al. v. Regents of the University of California, et al. — has worked its way through the federal court system and is a combination of the University of California (UC) case as well as similar DACA cases in the District of Columbia and New York. 

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was created by an executive order under former President Barack Obama in 2012. The program provides two-year repeated deferments from deportation and a work permit to individuals who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

The legal battle began in September 2017 when acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke announced the Trump administration was ending the program. 

Just three days after the decision to end DACA was announced, the UC filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, becoming the “first university board to sue the government,” according to a press release from the UC Office of the President (UCOP). 

The lawsuit puts UC President Janet Napolitano in a unique position. As president, her office is leading the fight nationwide to protect DACA — the signature legislation she helped create in 2012 as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for the Obama administration.

“Neither I, nor the University of California, take the step of suing the federal government lightly, especially not the very agency that I led,” Napolitano said. “To arbitrarily and capriciously end the DACA program, which benefits our country as a whole, is not only unlawful, it is contrary to our national values and bad policy.”

There are nearly 700,000 DACA recipients currently in the program, which includes “approximately 1,700 UC students,” according to UCOP.

The lawsuit alleges the Trump administration rescinded the program on “nothing more than unreasoned executive whim,” and that its removal is “unconstitutional, unjust, and unlawful.” 

The federal court granted an injunction to temporarily stop the Department of Homeland Security’s recission of DACA in January 2018.

In an unusual attempt, President Trump tried to bypass the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s hearing of the case, moving directly to the U.S. Supreme Court — but the justices denied his appeal. 

The case went on as scheduled to the Ninth Circuit, and in November of 2018, the court ruled in favor of the UC. 

Last June, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the DACA case in November 2019, beginning oral arguments this upcoming Tuesday, with expectations to have a decision in the summer. 

The case presents two specific questions: whether it is up to the courts to decide DACA’s fate, and if so, whether the decision to rescind the DACA program was “arbitrary and capricious.” 

“There is no dispute that this decision has life-changing implications for nearly 700,000 DACA participants and their families,” the Regent’s briefing reads. “Yet the Acting Secretary provided only a single vague sentence of explanation for the decision that leaves basic questions unanswered.”

In a statement released in September, Napolitano argued that the Trump administration acted illegally because it offered no “valid justification” for ending the program. 

“Five federal courts have considered this issue and found that the administration’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, and therefore unlawful,” Napolitano said. 

The court briefing mentioned that the administration waited seven months to end the program and that Trump had previously indicated he “would allow DREAMers to stay.” 

The Department of Homeland Security argued that DACA is illegal because it is a violation of immigration law and was enacted not through Congress, but as an executive order under former President Obama. 

“[DACA] was effectuated by the previous administration through executive action, without proper statutory authority and with no established end-date, after Congress’ repeated rejection of proposed legislation that would have accomplished a similar result,” said former acting Secretary of Homeland Security Duke in memorandum announcing DACA’s recission.

“Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”

During the past month, UCOP began a system-wide campaign in support of DACA, including a social media campaign where prominent UC leaders and national politicians have given reasons for why they stand with DACA recipients.

The campaign also includes an online pledge that, as of Nov. 6, totals over 10,000 signatures. The organization Home is Here organized rallies for Nov. 8 and 12 on the steps of the Supreme Court and nationwide.

If the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Department of Homeland Security, DACA recipients would lose authorization to work or complete their education. Besides the court case, UC leaders are working with Congress to create bipartisan legislation providing long-term legal protections for DACA recipients.

The Supreme Court does not disclose dates for its decisions, but a ruling must be made before the end of its yearly term in June 2020. 

A version of this article appeared on pg. 3 of the Nov. 7, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.


Katherine Swartz
Katherine Swartz was the 2021-22 editor in chief of the Daily Nexus. Previously, Swartz was the University News Editor for the 2020-2021 school year. She can be reached at or, and on twitter @kv_swartz.