Explainer: What the Supreme Court decision on DACA means for Dreamers

June 18, 2020

Today, the Supreme Court released a long-awaited decision regarding the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. In 2017, the Trump administration decided to end the Obama-era executive immigration program. The question before the court was whether the rollback process was done correctly.

The two issues the Supreme Court was asked to rule on in this case were:

  1. Whether the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision to wind down the DACA program is judicially reviewable; and
  2. whether DHS’s decision to wind down the DACA policy was lawful.

In a closely divided 5-4 decision, the justices ruled yes to the first question and no to the second. Writing for the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the decision to wind down DACA was judicially reviewable and that the administration’s rescission of the policy program was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated the Administrative Procedures Act. As a result, for now, DACA stands. The 5-4 decision today included Justices Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan in the majority, with Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Thomas, and Kavanaugh in the minority. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion of the court while Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas wrote the main dissenting opinion of the court alongside the agreement of Justices Gorsuch and Alito. Additionally, Justice Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion in today’s case.

What is DACA?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is an immigration policy the Obama Administration implemented by executive action in 2012. The policy gives temporary legal status to a special category of undocumented children in the U.S., commonly referred to as “Dreamers.”

Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases to defer deportation for a certain period of time. Through this executive action, President Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security to consider requests for deferred action for certain people who came to the U.S. as children and met qualifications similar to the DREAM Act. This is why people who qualify for DACA are sometimes referred to as “Dreamers.”

The DREAM Act has been proposed many times in the past 20 years but has not passed Congress. The legislation would grant lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis to young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as minors, and meet a variety of standards such as being of “good moral character,” committing to military service, and obtaining an education.

An earlier article from the ERLC explains DACA and the DREAM Act in more detail.

What is this case about?

Several cases, including Trump v. NAACP and Wolf v. Vidal, were consolidated under one case, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, to settle the question of whether the Trump administration properly followed the Administrative Procedure Act when it began to phase out the DACA program.

In 2017, President Trump directed the Department of Homeland Security to begin to phase out the DACA policy. The current administration stated that because President Obama did not have specific statutory authority and because the program did not have an explicit deadline, the DACA program was an unconstitutional exercise of Executive Branch power.

Shortly after the rollback began, several lawsuits were filed claiming that the administration’s rescission was a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, a law that details executive decision making processes. The plaintiffs also claimed that rescinding the DACA policy was done with discriminatory motives and it deprived its recipients of constitutionally protected liberties without due process in violation of the 14th Amendment.

Why is this case significant?

These young men and women are undocumented by no fault of their own. They were brought to this country by their parents as minors. We do not hold minors accountable for legal decisions they are unable to make. These young men and women are our neighbors, fellow church members, classmates, and colleagues.

For those currently with legal status from DACA, it should be recognized that they took the government at its word to come forward and submit to this program. Since then, they have lawfully lived, worked, and paid taxes in the U.S. Not only should they not be held accountable  for breaking our immigration laws when they were minors, we should also recognize that these men and women stepped forward when our government gave them an option.

The men and women who participated in the DACA program have demonstrated they are good neighbors who contribute positively to our country. They have proven this by pursuing education, working and paying taxes, sacrificially serving in our military, and rejecting lives of crime.

Was the ERLC involved in this case?

While the ERLC did not file an amicus brief in this case, Southern Baptists have long advocated for immigration reforms, particularly to protect this special category of young men and women from unjust deportation.

Responding to today’s ruling, Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, said that while the court’s decision “might address an immediate question of administrative law, it does not, ultimately, protect our vulnerable neighbors.” Moore then challenged the country to take immediate action:

“Dreamers are not an abstraction. They are people created in the image of God, who were brought here as children by their parents. Their entire lives are at stake right now. There is no sending these people ‘back’—in many cases they have no memory at all of the land of their parents’ origin. Those who have lived as good neighbors and contributed so greatly to our country should be protected from the constant threat of having their lives upended. That will take action by the United States Congress. Most Americans agree on this question, which is quite a feat in times as divided as these. Congress should move immediately to protect our Dreamer neighbors.”

What happens to DACA recipients now?

For now, the DACA program continues and these young men and women are able to continue living and working lawfully in this country. But today’s decision provides only temporary relief and security because the Trump administration could still rescind the program as the question before the justices today was one of procedure. Ultimately, immigration law is the responsibility of Congress, and they should act to fix our broken system. The Southern Baptist Convention has urged Congress to pass immigration reform as evidenced by the 2006 Southern Baptist Resolution.

The ERLC believes the only sustainable way forward for DACA recipients is for Congress to legislate a path to legal permanent resident status and, eventually, citizenship. In October 2017, we released an Evangelical Statement of Principles on Dreamers with over 50 original signatories urging Congress to take action and develop a bipartisan solution. Messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention of 2018 also explicitly urged Congress to develop a “just and compassionate path to legal status” for undocumented immigrants already living in our country. Dreamers need a permanent solution that is not subject to the cycle of executives or the makeup of judicial benches.

ERLC interns Seth Billingsley, Sloan Collier, Jackson McNeece, and Julia Stamper contributed to this article.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24