Federal judge declares DACA unconstitutional, blocks new claims

A Texas federal judge on Friday ruled illegal the Obama-era Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – which protects those who qualify for deportation and provides work authorization – preventing the Biden administration to accept new candidates. and putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in limbo.

In a 77-page opinion, District Judge Andrew Hanen determined that the DACA was illegal because it violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a statute that governs federal rule-making, by circumventing the normal “notice and notice” process. comments ”when adopting new rules.

The trial was led by Republican Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, as well as Attorneys General of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia , who argued that the federal program places an undue burden on states and constitutes an excess of executive power.

Protesters in San Francisco, September 5, 2017 (Wikimedia Commons)

In his ruling, Hanen cited the 2020 Supreme Court ruling in DHS v. Regents of the University of California, stating that the majority has determined that federal courts have the power to review the DACA program and its implementation. However, Hanen also borrowed from the dissenting opinion written by Conservative Judge Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Alito and Gorsuch, who said DACA was an “illegal program”.

“Judge Thomas noted that the majority’s failure to address the creation of the DACA was” an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision “which would result in future” battles to be fought in this Court, “” wrote Hanen. “While the controversial issue may ultimately revert to the Supreme Court, the battle Justice Thomas predicted currently resides here and it is not one this Court can avoid.”

Hanen’s decision will not immediately affect the more than 615,000 people, commonly known as Dreamers, who are currently protected by DACA. However, this means that the Department of Homeland Security can no longer approve new DACA requests or grant applicants the protections provided by DACA. In addition, the Dreamers once again find themselves in a state of legal limbo and uncertainty about their future.

Explaining his decision not to terminate the program immediately, Hanen cited the large number of people benefiting from the program.

“Hundreds of thousands of individual DACA beneficiaries, as well as their employers, states and loved ones, have come to rely on the DACA program,” Hanen wrote in a separate decision Friday night. “Given these interests, it is not fair that a government program that has created such a large dependency suddenly comes to an end.”

In the 2020 Supreme Court ruling, the court ruled that the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA in 2017 failed to consider the interests of the more than 600,000 people affected by the change and constituted an “arbitrary and capricious” violation of the ABS. But the court ruling still left an opportunity for future attacks on the program.

The Trump administration subsequently stopped accepting new requests for DACA and sought to place further limits on the program, but a New York federal judge overturned those measures.

New requests increased after his reinstatement in December. The volume of applications exceeded the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which reported a backlog of some 81,000 first applications pending at the end of June. All of these hopeful candidates, however, are now in limbo following Hanen’s decision and pending appeals.

The DACA, created in 2012, protects undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation, in addition to allowing them to work legally in the United States. Currently, program coverage is renewable and valid for two years at a time. However, in the decade since its inception, DACA remains one of the few avenues of access to citizenship and employment for immigrants. According to the Migration Policy Institute, in 2020, more than 1.3 million people in the United States are potentially eligible for DACA.

In a statement on Saturday, President Joe Biden said he would appeal Hanen’s decision and said the Department of Homeland Security “plans to release a proposed rule regarding DACA in the near future.” Additionally, Biden called on Congress to adopt a “permanent fix” for dreamers.

“I have repeatedly called on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, and I now renew this call with the utmost urgency,” Biden said. “It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally bring safety to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.”

However, previous bills attempting to do so have failed to obstruct the Senate, despite the overwhelming popularity of providing a path to citizenship for dreamers. According to a Pew Research Center poll in June 2020, 74% of American adults are in favor of “granting permanent legal status to immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States as children.”

However, the DREAM law failed in 2010 despite the passage of the House and obtaining the support of the majority in the Senate, due to the systematic obstruction. In 2018, the filibuster defeated four possible DACA fixes, although three of the four also won at least 50 votes.

Most recently, the American Dream and Promise Act was passed in the House in two different sessions – the first in 2019 and more recently in March of this year – but was not voted on in the Senate. . Despite democratic control by the House and Senate, legislation is unlikely to survive filibuster. In any case, if enacted, the bill would only grant “conditional permanent resident status” to several categories of immigrants, including dreamers and beneficiaries of temporary protection status, putting them on the safe side. a long road to citizenship.

Due to back and forth between the courts and the Trump administration, DACA beneficiaries have come of age amid a long period of uncertainty. Although many of them have lived and worked their entire adult lives in the United States, they still face the possibility of deportation.

Immigration rights groups were quick to point out this tumultuous reality.

In a statement released Friday, the Home Is Here Coalition called Hanen’s decision “cruel and malicious.”

“This decision is a reminder that DACA has never been enough to protect immigrant communities who continue to be threatened with deportation,” the group said.

The Alliance of Presidents for Higher Education and Immigration, a coalition of university presidents and chancellors, also called on Congress to “adopt a roadmap to citizenship” for dreamers “through all available mechanisms, including budget reconciliation ”, a process that would require a simple majority. instead of the 60 required to override a filibuster.

The organization was also joined by the American Business Immigration Coalition in releasing a letter signed by more than 400 university presidents, CEOs and civic leaders urging Congress to take action on behalf of the Dreamers.

“This relief is particularly critical for the 98,000 Dreamers who graduate from high school each year and the 427,000 undocumented students enrolled in higher education institutions,” the letter said.

“These students are working diligently to advance, including pursuing careers in health, STEM and education, despite the uncertainty they live with as to whether they will be able to complete their education. , invest in careers, businesses and families, and ultimately become citizens.

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