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Dreamers, Advocates Call for Urgent Action by Congress After Judge Rules DACA Illegal

DACA WATCH-Immigrant rights advocates on Friday called for the immediate codification of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into law after a federal judge in Texas blocked new DACA permit approvals in a ruling asserting that former President Barack Obama exceeded his authority when he implemented the policy that has protected hundreds of thousands of so-called Dreamers from deportation.

"It is absolutely urgent that Congress acts now through the budget reconciliation process to provide Dreamers and other undocumented members of our communities with reliable status and a pathway to citizenship."
—Omar Jadwat, ACLU

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with Texas and nine other states that challenged the legality of the DACA program, created by Obama in 2012. Hanen's ruling said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) by creating and implementing the DACA policy, which has allowed nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants—who were brought to the United States when they were children—to live and work in the United States.

"Nevertheless," wrote Hanen, "these rulings do not resolve the issue of the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients and others who have relied upon this program for almost a decade. That reliance has not diminished and may, in fact, have increased over time."

"It is not equitable for a government program that has engendered such significant reliance to terminate suddenly," he asserted.

The New York Times reports that the ruling does not at this time cancel the current permits held by hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, nor does it prevent the department from accepting new applications or issuing permit renewals, but DHS "is temporarily prohibited from approving any of them."

Advocates say the ruling underscores the imperative for Congress and the Biden administration to reach a legislative solution for the sake of the Dreamers.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden—who campaigned on a platform plank of citizenship for Dreamers—directed DHS "to take all actions" to "preserve and fortify DACA."

According to the Times:

But the court ruling in Texas has introduced a new complication, jeopardizing the legal status of hundreds of thousands of people who have been able to build families, buy homes, and work at jobs in the United States without fear of deportation. The ruling also represents a significant new challenge for... Biden as he attempts to build support in Congress for his ambitious plan to legalize up to 10 million other immigrants who are in the country without authorization.

The Biden administration is expected to appeal the ruling, and unless Congress steps in with a legislative remedy, the ultimate legality of DACA is almost certain to be decided by the Supreme Court.

In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly blocked an effort by the administration of former President Donald Trump to end DACA, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court's liberal justices in a 5-4 decision that called the xenophobic ex-president's bid to terminate the policy "arbitrary and capricious."

However, the justices did not rule on the legality of DACA's implementation.

Veronica Garcia, staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), said in a statement that the lawsuit leading to Friday's ruling "is rooted in hateful anti-immigrant sentiment and is without merit," describing it as "another attack on immigrant communities and communities of color led by Texas."

"The DACA program was won by years of organizing by immigrant youth who remain undeterred," Garcia said. "We will defend DACA alongside our partners to protect the hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families who benefit from the program."

Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said that "this ruling is wrong and is subject to appeal. But Dreamers' futures shouldn't be in the hands of the courts. It is absolutely urgent that Congress acts now through the budget reconciliation process to provide Dreamers and other undocumented members of our communities with reliable status and a pathway to citizenship."

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) tweeted that "the stakes have been raised, and futures of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients hang in the balance. We must move in this Congress to protect DACA and create a path to citizenship for all undocumented people."

(Brett Wilkins is staff writer for Common Dreams where this column was first published.)