DACA Is Declared Illegal by a Judge, Who Suspends Applications.
The judge found that President Barack Obama overstepped his authority when he created the program, but for the time being, those protected by it will be able to remain and work in the United States.
A federal judge in Texas ruled Friday that a program that shields hundreds of thousands of undocumented young adults from deportation is illegal, casting doubt once again on the fate of Dreamers.
President Barack Obama exceeded his authority, according to Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the United States District Court in Houston, when he created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by executive order in 2012.
However, the judge stated that current recipients of the program would be unaffected immediately and that the federal government should refrain from taking “any immigration, deportation, or criminal action” against them that it “would not take otherwise.”
The judge ruled that the Department of Homeland Security may continue to accept new applications but is temporarily barred from approving them. Immigrants enrolled in the program, the majority of whom were brought to the United States as children, will retain their ability to stay and work in the country for the time being, though those protections may expire if the government is unable to correct a series of legal flaws.
Judge Hanen, appointed by President George W. Bush, ruled that the program's creation violated the Administrative Procedure Act, in part because no public comment was solicited. “Because D.H.S. did not follow the statutorily mandated process,” he wrote, “DACA was never recognized as a legally binding policy capable of imposing duties or obligations.”
The Biden administration is expected to appeal the ruling, and unless Congress intervenes with a legislative remedy, the Supreme Court will almost certainly decide the ultimate legality of DACA.
Since its inception, DACA has allowed over 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children or who fell into unlawful status as children to remain in the country and obtain work authorization.
A backlog of new and renewal applications had built up as a result of the coronavirus pandemic's impact on the government's ability to process immigration cases.
“I spent years working through the pandemic and going through this process,” said William Cabeza Castillo, 32, a DACA recipient in New York who was brought to the United States when he was three years old. “This gives me the impression that I am a second-class citizen.”
Mr. Cabeza Castillo, who worked as a health aide in a hospital, is currently on unpaid leave because his two-year renewal has not been processed, and his protected status, which he had since 2014, expired on June 20.
Knowing that Friday's decision had no effect on renewals was still unsettling, he said. “There is a great deal of uncertainty. I'm fed up with the system as a whole.”
President Biden took action to strengthen the DACA program on his first day in office, and in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, the idea of extending a path to citizenship to enrolled young immigrants has garnered bipartisan public support.
However, the Texas court ruling has complicated matters for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been able to establish families, purchase homes, and work in the United States without fear of deportation. The ruling also presents a significant new obstacle for Mr. Biden as he seeks support in Congress for his audacious plan to legalize up to ten million additional immigrants.
Advocates have pressed Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to expedite the citizenship process for Dreamers, and that pressure is likely to intensify.
“Unless Congress acts to protect Dreamers, DACA is likely to be mired in litigation and legal uncertainty for some time,” said Michael Kagan, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' immigration clinic. “And there is no reason to believe that Congress will act expeditiously or easily.”
“Unfortunately, Dreamers may be forced to live with some degree of doubt and anxiety for the foreseeable future,” he added.
Lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund urged the judge to abstain from ruling entirely, citing Vice President Biden's directive to the Department of Homeland Security to develop rules to strengthen the program and recently introduced legislation in Congress that would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers.
“Because the decision does not take into account recent legal developments, including those from the Supreme Court, it presents numerous grounds for successful appeal,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the legal defense fund.
“What is critical is that current recipients are protected,” he stated.
Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia joined Texas in opposing the program's termination. Officials in those states argued that the program was adopted improperly, leaving them responsible for paying for education, health care, and other benefits for immigrants who remained in the country while protected under DACA.
Judge Hanen stated in his 77-page opinion that Congress reserved broad authority to regulate immigration and had previously declined to grant legal status to a group similar to the Dreamers.
“When the executive branch disagrees with Congress's decision to reject proposed legislation, the executive branch cannot simply enact its own legislative policy,” the judge wrote. “Congress has not delegated authority to DHS to enact DACA.”
Approximately 650,000 immigrants are currently enrolled in the program. Among them are approximately 200,000 frontline workers who performed critical functions during the pandemic in health care, agriculture, food processing, and education.
President Donald J. Trump announced the program's cancellation in 2017, but several federal court rulings prevented him from terminating it completely. Recipients were permitted to renew their DACA status despite the fact that new applications were not being accepted.
With the future of the embattled program uncertain, Texas and the other states filed a lawsuit in 2018 seeking the program's "immediate" cancellation. Judge Hanen declined to issue a preliminary injunction, stating that the "egg had already been scrambled" and that "attempting to restore it to its shell" was not in the country's best interests.
He cautioned, however, that states were likely to "win on the merits of their argument that DACA was unconstitutional."
The Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration's decision to terminate the program in June 2020, labeling it "arbitrary and capricious." However, the court made no determination regarding the program's legality.
In December, a federal judge in New York ordered the administration to begin accepting new DACA applications, reopening the door for thousands of people who had been shut out while such applications were suspended.
However, the Texas case continued to wind its way through the court system.
“We were aware that a threat remained out there. As a result, we said, please, please apply,” recalled Julie Mitchell, managing attorney at the Central American Resource Center, a Los Angeles-based legal aid organization that has assisted thousands of students in filing applications.
DACA applicants must have entered the United States before the age of 16, have lived in the country continuously since June 2007, have completed high school or enlisted in the military, and have a clean criminal record.
Sarahi Magallanez, a Los Angeles-based psychology student, is one of thousands of young immigrants still awaiting approval of new applications.
She sobbed upon hearing the news: "Oh, no. No. No." This is truly awful.”
Ms. Magallanez stated that she received notification on Tuesday from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that her application had been received and was being processed.
“I was counting on this to launch my career,” she sobbed. “Now there is a possibility that I will be unable to. DACA is not secure, and we are at the whims of whoever holds the reins.”
The American public is broadly supportive of allowing Dreamers to remain in the country. According to a Pew survey conducted last year, approximately three-quarters of respondents, including majorities of Democrats and Republicans, supported providing them with a path to permanent legal status.
Mr. Obama launched the program as a stopgap measure in the absence of more comprehensive immigration legislation, which Congress has been unable to pass over the last two decades.
Republicans have already voiced opposition to new proposals, which would grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of immigrants while large numbers of unauthorized migrants continue to cross the southwestern border.
Around 250,000 children born in the United States have at least one parent who is a DACA beneficiary, and approximately 1.5 million people in the United States live with a DACA beneficiary.