A federal judge in Texas has put the brakes on the initiative launched under former President Barack Obama’s administration that has protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children from potential deportation. U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen sided with Texas and other states by ruling that Obama exceeded his executive authority when he launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which he characterized as an “illegally implemented program.” But Hanen also said the approximately 650,000 people already in the program, known as “Dreamers,” can keep their protected status for now and that the federal government should not “take any immigration, deportation or criminal action” against them unless it would have done so anyway. Although the Department of Homeland Security can continue to accept new applications, it can’t approve any new ones for now.
Hanen said that with the program the president decided something that was under the purview of Congress. “The executive branch cannot just enact its own legislative policy when it disagrees with Congress’s choice to reject proposed legislation,” the judge wrote. “Congress has not given D.H.S. the power to enact DACA.” With his ruling, Hanen sided with Texas who led the effort to end DACA and was joined by Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia. The states claimed the program was unlawful and left them on the hook to pay for education and healthcare, among other benefits, for immigrants. In order to qualify for the program, immigrants must have been under 31 as of June 15, 2012, arrived in the United States before turning 16, and finished high school or enlisted in the military. They also have to pass a criminal-background check.
The ruling immediately became a rallying cry as immigrants and their advocates called on the White House and Democrats in Congress to push through legislation that would protect Dreamers. United We Dream Executive Director Greisa Martinez Rosas said the Friday ruling amounted to a “blaring siren” for Democrats to act. Key Democrats vowed to do just that. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Republicans “to join us in respecting the will of the American people and the law, to ensure that Dreamers have a permanent path to citizenship.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin, one of the key proponents of legislation to give dreamers a path to citizenship, said it was time to put an end to years of delay. “Congress will now act quickly — with or without the party of Donald Trump — to allow these Americans to finally become citizens,” Durbin said.
President Joe Biden on Saturday vowed the Justice Department will appeal the “deeply disappointing” ruling but called on lawmakers to act. “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,” Biden said.
*This post has been updated with new information since it was first published.