The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals provides protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. The sometimes controversial DACA program dates back to 2012, during the previous presidential administration. In 2017, the current administration claimed that the program had been illegal from the start and decided to end it, prompting several lawsuits.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear the case in June after nearly every federal judge to hear the case so far sided with DACA recipients. Last week, hundreds of threatened immigrants staged demonstrations outside as the Supreme Court case commenced. Others were inside listening while the nine justices within heard an 80-minute oral argument.

Potential consequences

It will likely be next spring at the earliest when the court hands down its decision. Should the court uphold the decision to end DACA, current recipients would not feel the effects right away. Most would retain the protection until the two-year expiration date. By that point, a new president could be in office.

The question is not only whether the Supreme Court agrees to end DACA, but also how it chooses to do so. The court could affirm the assertion of the Justice Department that the program was unlawful in the first place. In that case, restoring protections would require an act of Congress to change the law.

However, the court could also choose not to overrule the discretionary decision of the Department of Homeland to end the program, in which case, the next president would have the authority to renew it.

Swing vote

Analysis indicates an ideological division of the Supreme Court justices on this issue. Four liberal justices seem opposed to ending the program, while four conservative justices seem as though they may support the DHS’s decision.

It appears that the chief justice may be the deciding swing vote. In June, he voted against adding a citizenship question to the U.S. Census. However, he has also stated that the attorney general may have had justification to claim DACA’s illegality.