Federal Judge Again Rules DACA Unlawful, But Lets Obama-Era Program Continue

Biden vows to continue the legal battle while urging Congress to pass a legislative solution.

For a second time, a federal judge rejected the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that has blocked the deportation of qualified undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

However, the ruling did not mandate an immediate end to DACA – allowing more than 580,000 so-called “Dreamers” to remain in the United States with work permits. The term Dreamers comes from the proposed DREAM Act, first proposed in 2001, that offered legal status for attending college or joining the military.

CBS News reports that U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling on Wednesday (Sep. 13) sided with several Republican-led states, which argued that the Biden administration’s attempt to codify DACA into a federal regulation was unlawful. Hanen found that the administration made no material changes to the original Obama memo that created DACA in 2012.

Previously, Hanen ruled in 2021 that the Obama administration lacked the legal authority to grant work permits and deportation protections to the Dreamers. That ruling closed DACA to new applicants but allowed those in the program to renew their two-year work permits and shielded them from deportation.

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In response to the ruling, a White House statement said the Biden administration is committed to protecting the Dreamers and continues urging Congress to pass a legislative solution.

Many expect the administration to appeal Hanen’s ruling in a case that’s likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As we have long maintained, we disagree with the District Court’s conclusion that DACA is unlawful, and will continue to defend this critical policy from legal challenges,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “While we do so, consistent with the court’s order, DHS will continue to process renewals for current DACA recipients and DHS may continue to accept DACA applications.”

The New York Times reports that former president Donald Trump came into office vowing to end DACA. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced in 2017 that the administration was rescinding DACA.

At the same time, Texas spearheaded state-level legal challenges to the program, arguing in federal court that DACA was unlawful and imposed unfair education and health care costs on taxpayers.

On DACA’s 10th anniversary, former president Barack Obama renewed his call for Congress to create a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, The Hill reported, adding that politicians who ignore the program’s “remarkable benefits” to the nation threaten DACA’s future.

“Let’s honor these Dreamers and everything they’ve done to strengthen our country,” Obama said. “Let’s treat them like the Americans that they are. And let’s do everything we can to help build a common sense immigration system that honors our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”

More than 800,000 DACA recipients have benefited from the program since its inception 11 years ago. Most the Dreamers are now in their 30s. Many of them are settled into careers and raising families. At the end of March, 578,680 immigrants were enrolled in the program, mainly living in California, Texas, Illinois and New York.

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