A federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program shielding certain undocumented immigrants from deportation, is illegal and blocked new applicants.
The ruling from Judge Andrew Hanen would bar future applications but does not immediately cancel current permits for hundreds of thousands of people.
DACA, created in 2012, was intended to provide temporary reprieve to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children — a group often described as “Dreamers” — many of whom are now adults.
But almost a decade since the program was established, DACA is still one of the only signs of potential relief for undocumented immigrants looking to remain and work in the US.
Hanen, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ruled that Congress had not granted the Department of Homeland Security the authority to create DACA and that it prevented immigration officials from enforcing removal provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
“Congress has not granted the Executive Branch free rein to grant lawful presence outside the ambit of the statutory scheme,” Hanen wrote.
Congress remains the only body that can provide a permanent solution for DACA recipients through legislation, but immigration legislation has been stalled for years.
Democrats immediately called for Congress to act.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, and his twin brother Julian Castro, who served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama, called the decision is “terrible.”
“The dreams of hundreds of thousands of young people who are contributing to the American economy will be put on hold for no good reason. Congress must pass a pathway to citizenship this year. We can’t wait,” Rep. Castro said on Twitter.
“Dreamers have lived in uncertainty for far too long. It’s time Congress give them the protections they deserve. We must pass the budget reconciliation bill,” Julián Castro said.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell said on Twitter, “This rightwing hack judge in Texas is trying to unilaterally stop the DACA program. This decision must be appealed and tossed out.”
The White House, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Long legal fight
Hanen’s shocking Friday afternoon ruling is the latest dramatic twist in the nearly decade-old DACA program.
The Trump administration tried ending DACA in 2017, but the US Supreme Court blocked its attempt in June 2020.
After the Supreme Court ruling, the Trump administration then tried to say no new DACA applications would be accepted and renewals would be limited to one year instead of two amid an ongoing review. A separate federal judge rejected that and ordered the restoration of the program.
The lawsuit was originally brought by Texas — along with Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia — which argued that the program placed an undue burden on the states and amounted to executive overreach. Hanen heard oral arguments in the case in December.
In his ruling Friday, Hanen cited the earlier Supreme Court decision, pointing to the majority’s determination that courts have the authority to review the DACA memorandum. But Hanen also drew from a dissent written by Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, that said DACA was an “unlawful program.”
“Justice Thomas noted that the majority’s failure to address DACA’s creation was ‘an effort to avoid a politically controversially but legally correct decision’ that would result in future ‘battles to be fought in this Court,'” Hanen wrote. “While the controversial issue may ultimately return to the Supreme Court, the battle Justice Thomas predicted currently resides here and it is not one this Court can avoid.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.
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