Conservative Supreme Court justices lean toward Trump on ending immigrant program

Conservative Supreme Court justices lean toward Trump on ending immigrant program
By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared sympathetic to President Donald Trump’s effort to rescind a program that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children – dubbed “Dreamers” – part of his tough immigration policies.

Several of the five conservative justices appeared skeptical that courts can even review the Republican president’s 2017 plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which had been implemented in 2012 by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama. Even if the court finds that it can be reviewed, conservative justices indicated they think Trump’s administration gave a reasonable explanation for its decision.

Liberal justices emphasized the large number of individuals, businesses and others that have relied on the program.

The court’s 5-4 conservative majority includes two justices – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – appointed by Trump.

The justices heard the administration’s appeals of lower court rulings in California, New York and the District of Columbia that blocked Trump’s move as unlawful and left DACA in place.

Trump’s administration has argued that Obama exceeded his constitutional powers when he created DACA by executive action, bypassing Congress. Trump has made his hardline immigration policies – cracking down on legal and illegal immigration and pursuing construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border – a centerpiece of his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign.

Kavanaugh said there is no reason to think that the administration’s consideration of the impact its decision would have on individuals, when weighed against its contention that the DACA program was unlawful from the beginning, was anything other than a “considered decision.”

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts – who could be the pivotal vote in deciding the case – questioned whether there was much more that needed to be added to the administration’s rationale even if the court were to rule in favor of the challengers and send the issue back for further review.

The challengers who sued to stop Trump’s action included a collection of states such as California and New York, people currently protected by the program and civil rights groups.

Were the court to rule in favor of the challengers it would merely prolong the uncertainty for “Dreamers,” Gorsuch said.

“What good would another five years of litigation … serve?” Gorsuch asked.

DACA currently shields about 660,000 immigrants – mostly Hispanic young adults – from deportation and provides them work permits, though not a path to citizenship.

Much of the administration’s reasoning in trying to end DACA was based on then-Attorney General Jeff Session’s conclusion in 2017 that the program was unlawful.

Gorsuch pressed an attorney representing supporters of DACA about the limits on courts to second guess decisions by federal agencies that are within their discretion to make. Gorsuch also seemed skeptical that the administration had not adequately addressed its reasons for rescinding the program, as DACA advocates have argued.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor demanded that U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who argued the case for the administration, identify whether the administration considered all the harm that ending the program would do, or if it was just a “choice to destroy lives.”

Francisco was repeatedly questioned as to why the administration has justified ending the program because of its purported unlawfulness instead of giving other reasons for why it wants to.

Toward the end of the argument Francisco pushed back, saying the administration was not trying to shirk responsibility for ending a popular program.

“We own this,” Francisco said, referring to Trump’s decision to kill DACA.

The lower courts ruled that Trump’s move to rescind DACA was likely “arbitrary and capricious” and violated a U.S. law called the Administrative Procedure Act.

The justices must determine whether administration officials failed to provide adequate reasons for the decision to end DACA. The initial memo rescinding DACA, the plaintiffs said, gave a “one-sentence explanation” and did not spell out why the administration believes the program is unlawful. The justices will also have to decide whether the administration’s action against DACA is even something courts can review.

Several hundred DACA supporters gathered outside the court on a gray and chilly Tuesday morning, chanting, banging drums and carrying signs that read “home is here” and “defend DACA.”

Anel Medina, a 28-year-old DACA enrollee and oncology nurse in Philadelphia, was among the demonstrators.

“It changed my life. I was able to get a job … finish nursing school,” said Medina, who was born in Mexico City and brought by her mother to the United States at age 5.

Medina said she was a college student and living without legal status when Obama launched DACA.

Graphic showing major cases currently before the Supreme Court: https://tmsnrt.rs/2mZn6MJ

‘A DEAL WILL BE MADE’

Trump has given mixed messages about the “Dreamers,” saying in 2017 that he has “a great love” for them even as he sought to kill a program that protected them from deportation. Ahead of the arguments on Tuesday, his tone was darker.

“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels.’ Some are very tough, hardened criminals,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Immigrants who had been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor crimes were not eligible to apply to the DACA program and any DACA recipient can be stripped of the program’s protections and deported if they commit serious crimes.

Trump added, “If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” Trump offered no details of any deal.

Trump previously has called on Congress to “advance responsible immigration reform” but never proposed a detailed replacement for DACA.

Obama created DACA to protect immigrants who as minors were brought into the United States illegally or overstayed a visa. Obama acted after Congress failed to pass a bipartisan immigration policy overhaul that would have provided a path to citizenship to these young immigrants.

The young people protected under DACA, Obama said, were raised and educated in the United States, grew up as Americans and often know little about their countries of origin.

The program, which allows eligible immigrants to obtain renewable two-year work permits, remains in effect for those already enrolled but the administration has refused to approve new applications.

The “Dreamers” moniker is based on the name of bipartisan legislation – never passed – called the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act that would have granted these young immigrants legal status.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Additional reporting by Ted Hesson and Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Will Dunham)

Mexico vows to end ‘horror’ migrants face, seeks more detail on U.S. plan

By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The Mexican government on Monday pledged to end the “horror” migrants face crossing the country en route to the U.S. border, and pressed Washington for more details of its plan to send asylum-seekers to Mexico while their requests are processed.

Mexico’s government had said it would on Monday set out its position on the Trump administration’s radical policy change, announced last week, that migrants seeking refuge in the United States would be sent to Mexico while their cases are pending.

But for the second time running, Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard told a regular news conference that he would seek “more information” from U.S. authorities about the plan both sides unveiled on Thursday.

Most migrants traveling to the United States are from poor and violent countries in Central America. Caravans of them from the region have in recent months fanned tensions between Mexico and U.S. President Donald Trump over border security.

Ebrard reiterated his government would not sign any accord that made Mexico a “safe third country” – an agreement Mexico says U.S. officials have requested which would oblige migrants who arrive first in Mexico to file asylum requests there.

Instead, the minister said, Mexico would “drastically” change its migration policy to ensure that its response to the mass movement of people was humanitarian.

“Today there’s only one way of describing the experience of the migrants that travel through our country: It is a horror. Humiliations, abuses, violations, and outrages,” Ebrard said alongside President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Deflecting attention from Trump’s often pointed criticism, Mexico has tried to take the higher ground in the debate by promising to help migrants get jobs and visas.

Interior Minister Olga Sanchez told the news conference that migrants would in future enter Mexico in an “orderly” and “safe” way, vowing a shift away from what she called a policy of “repression and militarization” at its southern border.

But many questions remain about how Mexico will cope with an influx of potentially thousands of Central Americans into the country for cases that may take years to process.

Lopez Obrador has sought not to antagonize Trump by commenting on the U.S. president’s demands for a southern border wall, and on Monday he again declined to do so.

“There’s a special situation in the United States and I don’t wish to offer a point of view,” he told reporters. “I will keep my counsel. There will be time.”

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. top court snubs environmental challenge to Trump’s border wall

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, U.S., November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria  

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rebuffed a challenge by three conservation groups to the authority of President Donald Trump’s administration to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a victory for Trump who has made the wall a centerpiece of his hardline immigration policies.

The justices’ declined to hear the groups’ appeal of a ruling by a federal judge in California rejecting their claims that the administration had pursued border wall projects without complying with applicable environmental laws. The groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife.

Their lawsuits said construction operations would harm plants, rare wildlife habitats, threatened coastal birds like the snowy plover and California gnatcatcher, and other species such as fairy shrimp and the Quino checkerspot butterfly.

Brian Segee, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said he was disappointed that the court would not hear the case.

“Trump has abused his power to wreak havoc along the border to score political points,” Segee said. “He’s illegally sweeping aside bedrock environmental and public health laws. We’ll continue to fight Trump’s dangerous wall in the courts and in Congress.”

Trump has clashed with U.S. lawmakers, particularly Democrats, over his plans for an extensive and costly border wall that he has called necessary to combat illegal immigration and drug smuggling. Congress, controlled by the president’s fellow Republicans, has not yet provided him the amount of money he wants.

The president has threatened a government shutdown unless lawmakers provide $5 billion in funding.

On Saturday, Trump said congressional leaders sought a two-week extension of funding ahead of a Dec. 7 deadline to fully fund the U.S. government and that he would probably agree to it.

Mexico has rejected Trump’s demand that it pay for the wall.

Illegal immigration was a central theme of Trump’s presidential bid, and he repeatedly invoked the issue ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections as a caravan of migrants from Central America made their way toward the United States. Trump deployed 5,800 U.S. troops to the border.

The three conservation groups sued last year in San Diego after the Department of Homeland Security authorized projects to replace existing border fencing at two sites in southern California, as well as the construction of prototype border walls.

The dispute centers on a 1996 law aimed at countering illegal immigration that gave the federal government the authority to build border barriers and preempt legal requirements such as environmental rules. That law also limited the kinds of legal challenges that could be mounted.

The groups argued that Trump’s wall projects did not fall under that law and that the measure was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to unelected Cabinet officials to avoid laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in February ruled that the administration had not exceeded its powers. The groups appealed the judge’s decision to the Supreme Court.

The groups have said that giving the federal government unfettered power to waive applicable laws and limit judicial oversight is ripe for abuse. With such power, the plaintiffs argued, officials could theoretically give contracts to political cronies to build walls with no safety standards using child migrant labor, and “kill bald eagles in the process.”

The Trump administration urged the justices not to take up the appeal. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department on Monday declined to comment.

Trump criticized Curiel in 2016 in a different case, a lawsuit accusing his now-defunct Trump University of fraud. Trump, while running for president, accused Curiel of being biased against him because of the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican heritage.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Grant McCool)