A Texas-based U.S. judge ruled Wednesday against an Obama-era immigration policy meant to prevent the deportation of and provide work permits to immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children.
U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of Texas Andrew Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was unlawful — despite an effort by the Biden administration to increase the program’s regulation in order to preserve it.
DACA was created in 2012 after Congress failed to pass legislation granting lawful status for individuals brought illegally to the United States as children, and directed immigration enforcement officers not to remove “certain young people who were brought to this country as children” under certain criteria.
Those criteria include coming to the U.S. under the age of 16, residing in the U.S. for at least five years preceding 2012, being in school or graduated from high school, being a veteran, not being convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor or otherwise a threat to national security, and not being over the age of 30.
At the time of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memorandum establishing DACA, the program applied to some 1.9 million illegal aliens — since that time, over 825,000 people have received deferred action under DACA.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there were 578,680 people — so called “dreamers” — enrolled in DACA at the end of March.
The deferred action granted DACA recipients eligibility for various benefits, such as Social Security and Medicare, and being able to apply for work authorization — though the program did not provide its applicants with a pathway to citizenship, as that must be established through Congress.
Former President Donald Trump canceled the DACA program in 2017, but his move was reversed following a decision by the Supreme Court in 2020, in a 5-4 majority opinion in which Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal justices.
With the conservatives now holding a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, the appeals process of Judge Hanen’s decision — if it makes it to the high court — may result in a different outcome.
In an August 2022 memo, the DHS issued a final rule regarding new DACA regulations that were meant to address procedural deficiencies of the 2012 memo.
Despite the Biden administrations attempt to bolster the program’s regulation, Judge Hanen determined that there were “no material differences between the two programs,” and that the 2022 final rule “suffers from the same legal impediments” and the initial 2012 memo.
Hanen’s decision follows an earlier ruling from the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which also determined that DACA is unlawful, in line with a lower court decision.
The October 2022 5th Circuit ruling determined that Texas had legal standing to sue on the grounds of increased social services, healthcare, and education costs related to DACA.
States including Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kansas, and Mississippi have sued on the basis of the hundred of millions of dollars they have had to incur in costs due to the DACA program, and that the DHS circumvented Congress when it established the program.
“Congress, for any number of reasons, has decided not to pass DACA-like legislation,” Judge Hanen wrote in his Wednesday ruling. “The executive branch cannot usurp the power bestowed on Congress by the Constitution − even to fill a void.”
In his Sept. 13 ruling, Hanen ruled that the Biden administration’s 2022 regulations were inconsistent with the statutory framework of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and that the issues raised by the 5th Circuit “still exist.”
Hanen has barred the government from approving any new applications to the DACA program, but has left the program available for existing recipients during the upcoming appeals process.
The judge’s ruling does not require the federal government to remove DACA recipients from the country.