HOUSTON (AP) — A federal judge in Texas on Friday ordered an end to an Obama-era program that prevented the deportations of some immigrants brought into the United States as children, putting new pressure for action on President Joe Biden and Democrats who now control Congress.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled in favor of Texas and eight other conservative states that had sued to halt the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides limited protections to about 650,000 people. People who are already enrolled won’t lose protections, but Hanen is barring the processing of new applications.
The ruling is rattling immigrants attempting to normalize their status utilizing DACA.
“Because it’s not a codified law, it’s under an executive order,” said Morgan Principi, an immigration attorney and director of legal affairs for Pathways to Citizenship in Solana Beach. “It’s always going to be subject to judicial scrutiny.”
Hanen’s decision limits the immediate ability of Biden, who pledged during his campaign to protect DACA, to keep the program or something similar in place. His ruling is the second by a federal judge in Texas stopping Biden’s immigration plans, after a court barred enforcement of Biden’s 100-day stay on most deportations.
Biden has already proposed legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without authorization. He also ordered agencies to make efforts to preserve the program.
Supporters of DACA, including those who argued before Hanen to save it, have said a law passed by Congress is necessary to provide permanent relief. Hanen has said Congress must act if the U.S. wants to provide the protections in DACA to recipients commonly known as “Dreamers.”
Now, the 640,000 DACA recipients are currently allowed to continue to work and live in the U.S. unmolested, but those who have not finalized their status in DACA are once again in a legal limbo.
“This makes eligible DACA recipients very uncertain because they don’t know when or if they be able to apply for this temporary status,” Prinicipi said.
Hanen’s ruling came after he held a nearly 3 1/2 hour court hearing Dec. 22 on DACA’s fate.
The states argued that former President Barack Obama never had the authority in 2012 to create a program like DACA because it circumvented Congress. The states also argued the program drains their educational and healthcare resources.
Suing alongside Texas were Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia — states that all had Republican governors or state attorneys general.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which defended the program on behalf of a group of DACA recipients, had argued Obama had the authority to institute DACA and that the states lacked the standing to sue because they had not suffered any harm due to the program.
Hanen had rejected Texas’ request in 2018 to stop the program through a preliminary injunction. But in a foreshadowing of his latest ruling, Hanen said in 2018 that he believed DACA as enacted was likely unconstitutional.
“If the nation truly wants to have a DACA program, it is up to Congress to say so,” Hanen wrote then.
Hanen ruled in 2015 that Obama could not expand DACA protections or institute a program shielding their parents.
While DACA is often described as a program for young immigrants, many recipients have lived in the U.S. for a decade or longer after being brought into the country without permission or overstaying visas. The liberal Center for American Progress says roughly 254,000 children have at least one parent relying on DACA. Some recipients are grandparents.
The U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that former President Donald Trump’s attempt to end DACA in 2017 was unlawful. A New York judge in December ordered the Trump administration to restore the program as enacted by Obama.