U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was illegal because Congress has never given the executive the power to grant mass reprieve to immigrants who are in the United States without authorization.
“As popular as this program may be, the proper starting point for the DACA program was, and is, Congress,” wrote Judge Hanen, a person appointed by George W. Bush.
The judge in another part of his ruling said the Obama administration also erred in not soliciting public comment on DACA before passing it.
Judge Hanen’s ruling barred the Biden administration from approving new DACA applications. But the judge suspended the immediate effect of his ruling on current DACA recipients, citing their long-standing dependence on the program, which means there will be no immediate upheaval for those who are currently in good standing.
Current beneficiaries will also be allowed to renew their status under the program, according to the decision.
The judge referred the matter back to the Department of Homeland Security to determine how to proceed. DHS has previously said it is working on a formal regulation to codify a DACA-like program in the coming months, which could potentially harden some legal vulnerabilities.
The case is likely to see further legal proceedings in higher courts, which could leave a final result in several months.
The White House, Justice Department and DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The DACA program offered temporary protections to all immigrants to the country without legal authorization who were 30 years of age or younger when the program was announced. DACA recipients must have arrived in the United States in 2007, before turning 16, and meet other conditions, including being a student or graduate and have no significant criminal record.
The Obama administration created the program to protect these young immigrants, often referred to as Dreamers, after their namesake bill, the Dream Act, which would have paved the way for them to citizenship, was not passed by Congress in 2010.
The move could create a new urgency in Congress to find a permanent solution for the Dreamers, after bipartisan talks to reach a deal were stalled this spring amid a wave of continued migration across the southern border. Lawmakers who support DACA have expressed concern that the program will be taken to the current Supreme Court, which they say is skeptical of its legality.
Democrats announced this week that they will attempt to illegally create a path to citizenship for dreamers and other immigrants to the country through their $ 3.5 trillion health care and poverty plan, which , if it meets certain procedural requirements, would require a simple majority to pass. But strategy is not a safe bet.
“Today’s decision is proof that DACA is not enough,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of United We Dream, an advocacy organization. “Until President Biden and the Democrats in Congress grant citizenship, the lives of millions of undocumented migrants remain at stake.”
US companies, especially tech companies, have long supported Dreamers, Microsoft Corp. joining a lawsuit against the Trump administration when it tried to end DACA.
“We are very disappointed with today’s decision,” said Jose Castaneda, spokesperson for Google. “To give Dreamers more certainty in their lives, we urge Congress and the administration to cement DACA once and for all.”
Last year, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to quash the program, saying it had not offered adequate reasons for the decision. The judges, however, did not rule on the legality of DACA itself, which has remained an open question since President Obama first introduced it in 2012.
If the DACA makes a return trip to the High Court, the program would find itself facing a bench that has taken a more conservative direction since it blocked Trump’s cancellation, due to the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg last September. A leading member of the liberal wing of the court, Judge Ginsburg was in the 5-4 majority which saved the program. Three dissenting Conservative judges – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – have previously said they believe DACA was illegal from the start.
The Plight of the Dreamers has become a flashpoint in the larger struggle over immigration reform, and the ongoing legal and political battles over DACA have created years of uncertainty for the more than 600,000 immigrant youth who depend on the program.
The move will be felt more urgently by young immigrants who first applied for DACA when the program reopened in December, after the Trump administration closed it to new applicants in September 2017.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that processes applications, faced delays in processing new applications due to agency-wide backlogs caused in part by the Covid-19 pandemic . From December to the end of June, about 82,000 people applied for DACA, and about 5,000 were approved, according to government figures provided to Congress.
Texas and other Republican-led states have challenged the program in court, alleging it amounted to a presidential overtake.
States also claim that the program cost them money, in the form of driver’s licenses and other documents for DACA recipients.
Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit dates back to 2018. At the start of the case, Judge Hanen said states ruled by Texas are likely to win.
Justice Hanen had previously ruled in favor of Texas in a similar case challenging a broader Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, which granted DACA-like protections to people in the United States. country illegally with US citizen children. This case eventually reached the Supreme Court, and after the death of Judge Antonin Scalia in 2016, the judges blocked 4-4, thereby upholding Judge Hanen’s decision blocking the program.
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