A federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled illegal an Obama-era program that prevents the deportation of some immigrants brought into the United States as children, putting new pressure for action on President Joe Biden and Democrats who control Congress for legislation to safeguard the people known as “Dreamers.”
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled in favor of Texas and eight other conservative states that 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 approval of any new applications.
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. The program has been challenged in court since former President Barack Obama instituted it in June 2012.
In Friday's ruling, Hanen wrote that the states proved “the hardship that the continued operation of DACA has inflicted on them.”
He continued: “Furthermore, the government has no legitimate interest in the continuation of an illegally implemented program.”
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.”
The House approved legislation in March creating a pathway toward citizenship for “Dreamers,” but the measure has been stalled in the Senate. Immigration advocates hope to include a provision opening that citizenship doorway in sweeping budget legislation Democrats want to approve this year, but it’s unclear whether that language will survive.
Hanen’s ruling came after a nearly 3 1/2 hour court hearing Dec. 22 on DACA’s fate.
The states argued that Obama never had the authority in 2012 to create DACA because it circumvented Congress. The states also argued that 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, argued Obama did have the authority and that the states lacked the standing to sue because they had not suffered any harm due to the program.
Hanen rejected Texas’ request in 2018 to stop the program through a preliminary injunction. But in a foreshadowing of his latest ruling, he said 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 in 2018.
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 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.
Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a progressive organization, expressed disappointment at Friday's ruling, saying in a statement that DACA has been a big success that has transformed many lives.
“Today makes absolutely clear: only a permanent legislative solution passed by Congress will eliminate the fear and uncertainty that DACA recipients have been forced to live with for years. We call on each and every elected office to do everything within their power so that DACA recipients and their families and communities can live free from fear, and continue to build their lives here," Schulte said.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.