DACA Ruled Unlawful by Federal Judge—What That Means

A federal judge in Texas has declared illegal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era initiative that provides deportation protection and work permits to some young immigrants. It marks the latest twist in a legal battle over the program that has created uncertainty for DACA recipients since 2017. Here are some questions and answers about what the ruling means.

DACA was created by then-President Barack Obama in 2012 after Congress failed to pass the Dream Act, a bill providing a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and have lived in the country illegally.

The program offers the so-called Dreamers temporary protections from deportation and grants them work permits for two years at a time. It also gives immigrants permission, on a case-by-case basis, to safely leave the country without being blocked from returning. DACA recipients must have arrived in the U.S. by 2007, before they turned 16, and satisfied other conditions, including being a student or graduate and having no significant criminal record.

President Donald Trump attempted to end the program. What happened?

In September 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Trump administration would wind down the program, calling it an illegal exercise of presidential power. Several states, immigration advocacy organizations and DACA recipients sued the administration for its decision, and by January 2018, a judge ordered the administration to continue processing DACA renewals for the length of the legal battle.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled on the Trump administration’s action, saying it didn’t follow the proper procedure when it attempted to end DACA. Though the administration had the right to cancel the program, the court said, it didn’t provide a “reasoned explanation for its action” or adequately consider the consequences for people relying on its protections.

The Supreme Court never considered or ruled on the question of whether DACA was legal to begin with.

What does the Texas judge’s ruling say?

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, of the Southern District of Texas, wrote in his 77-page ruling that the program, created in 2012, had two problems. First, he said that it was improperly enacted under a federal law governing how the executive branch can issue new policies. Second, he said the president didn’t have the authority to issue unilaterally mass reprieves to immigrants living in the country illegally.

“As popular as this program might be, the proper origination point for the DACA program was, and is, Congress,” Judge Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote.

Texas and other Republican-led states brought the challenge against DACA’s legality in 2017, alleging it amounted to presidential overreach.

The states also say the program has cost them money, in the form of issuing driver’s licenses and other documents to DACA recipients.

As the Biden administration grapples with a surge in migrants crossing the Southern border illegally, it faces a strategic choice in how it will approach broader immigration reform. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains. (Published June 4, 2021) Photo illustration: Ang Li

What does the ruling mean for DACA recipients right now?

The judge stayed the effect of his ruling on the more than 600,000 existing DACA recipients, and they will be permitted to continue renewing their DACA enrollment when it expires as the case makes its way through the courts. The judge blocked the Department of Homeland Security from issuing grants of DACA to any new recipients.

The ruling will be felt most by these immigrants, many of whom were too young to apply for the program when then-President Donald Trump shut it down to new applicants in 2017.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS agency that processes applications, has faced delays amid agencywide backlogs brought about in part by the Covid-19 pandemic. From December through the end of June, about 82,000 people applied for DACA, and about 5,000 were approved, according to government figures provided to Congress.

What happens next?

President Biden said Saturday the Justice Department plans to appeal the decision. He also said that DHS is working on a formal regulation to codify a DACA-like program in the coming months, which could make it less vulnerable to legal challenges. But Mr. Biden acknowledged that such actions would only provide short-term fixes. He said “only Congress can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve.”

Will Congress pass a bill to provide a permanent solution for DACA recipients?

Bipartisan negotiations to strike some kind of immigration deal providing a path to citizenship for the Dreamers—a broader class of young immigrants—have been ongoing since Mr. Biden took office. But they haven’t gained traction, amid a continuing surge of migrants at the southern border. In recent weeks, Sens. John Cornyn (R., Texas) and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) said they would be willing to make a deal with Democrats providing a path to citizenship for existing DACA recipients, in exchange for new border security and other measures. Democrats rejected their proposal, calling it too narrow.

Such a deal would require support from at least 60 senators—meaning at least 10 Republicans.

Democrats, meanwhile, also said this week that they plan to try a different legislative approach, creating a path to citizenship for a larger group of immigrants through their $3.5 trillion healthcare and antipoverty plan. That would use a budget maneuver known as reconciliation to pass with a simple majority of the 50 senators who caucus as Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the needed 51st vote.

They aim to extend the citizenship to all Dreamers—including those who are too young to have qualified for DACA—along with recipients of Temporary Protected Status, farmworkers working in the country illegally as well as other immigrants deemed “essential workers” during the pandemic. Democrats estimate that group could be six million people or more.

Write to Michelle Hackman at michelle.hackman+1@wsj.com

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Source: WSJ – US News

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