The program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protects people brought to the United States as children by shielding them from deportation and letting them work.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that the Trump administration may not immediately proceed with its plan to end a program protecting about 700,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation, dealing a surprising setback to one of President Trump’s central campaign promises.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion, joined by the court’s four more liberal members in upholding the executive action by President Barack Obama that established the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. But the chief justice made clear that the decision was based on procedural issues and that the Trump administration could try to redress them.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” the chief justice wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
Still, the decision was the second that week in which the court reached a result in a major case that elated liberals. On Monday, it ruled that L.G.B.T. workers were protected by a landmark civil rights law. Chief Justice Roberts was in the majority in that decision, too.
Mr. Trump responded with an angry attack on the court.
“These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives,” he wrote on Twitter. And he made clear that he would make the composition of the court a campaign issue, as he did in 2016.
The court’s decision was provisional, and it did not remove the uncertainty that young immigrants have lived with — including the possibility of being forcibly returned to countries many of them cannot even remember — since they arrived in the United States as children. The DACA program itself provided only a renewable two-year deferral of possible deportation, with no pathway to citizenship.
“Today’s decision allows Dreamers to breathe a temporary sigh of relief,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a law professor at Cornell.
But young immigrants said they were surprised and delighted that the court had ruled in their favor.
“I’m actually still shaking,” said Joana Cabrera, who came to the United States from the Philippines at age 9, and at 24 is on a team researching the use of robots in coronavirus testing in San Francisco. “I’m unbelievably happy because I was expecting the worst.”
Mr. Trump announced in September 2017 that he would wind down the program, basing his decision on the argument that creating or maintaining it was beyond the legal power of any president.
But the justification the government gave, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, was insufficient or, in legal terms, “arbitrary and capricious.” He said the administration may try again to provide adequate reasons.
But producing such further justifications, and resolving the legal challenges that will inevitably follow, will take many months if not years, pushing a final resolution of the case past this year’s elections.