A federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is unlawful. The decision, by US District Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas, injected uncertainty into the lives of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, as well as their families.
Those currently in the DACA program will be allowed to stay in it, even as the judge has blocked the government from approving the applications of new enrolees. Here is a breakdown of what his decision means.
DACA was established by the Obama administration in 2012.
The program offers undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children protection from deportation as well as certain authorizations to work in the US. To be eligible, applicants had to have arrived in the US before age 16 and have lived there since June 15, 2007. They could not have been older than 30 when the Department of Homeland Security enacted the policy in 2012. Recipients are required to renew their protections every two years. The program doesn’t provide permanent protection or a pathway to citizenship.
The Trump administration tried unsuccessfully to rescind it, but President Joe Biden has pledged to fortify it. His administration has already taken steps to put DACA through a more rigorous regulatory process, after Hanen previously had said that the Obama administration had not followed all the proper administrative procedures in launching the program.
Hanen declared DACA unlawful because he concluded it had violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates what procedures agencies must go through to implement certain policies. Rather than immediately strike down the program in its entirety, he is putting some aspects of his decision on hold for the time being, as the case continues to be litigated and so the government can consider making changes to the program.
Friday’s ruling applies to new applicants, not to those who are already in the program. Hanen stayed his order for current DACA recipients. As long as that stay is in effect, those recipients can also renew — a process that happens every two years. Recipients will still be protected from deportation under DACA and allowed to work legally.
Last December, a federal judge in New York ruled that the federal government must accept new DACA applications. Since then, thousands of those eligible for the program have applied but the majority are still waiting for approval amid a backlog that accumulated during the coronavirus pandemic. Friday’s decision blocks those applications from being granted, even if they were submitted prior to the ruling, according to Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. A Latino legal civil rights organization, MALDEF is representing a group of DACA recipients who are defending the program in the case.
The lawyers representing individual DACA recipients said Friday that they’re in the process of assessing next steps. The Biden administration, as well as New Jersey, which intervened to defend DACA, could also choose to appeal.