A US federal judge in Texas has blocked new applications to a programme that protects immigrants who were brought to the United States as children from deportation but said the hundreds of thousands of people already enrolled would not be affected until further court rulings.
US District Judge Andrew Hanen on Friday sided with a group of states suing to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, arguing it was illegally created by former President Barack Obama in 2012.
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Hanen found the programme violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) when it was created but said that since there were so many people currently enrolled in the programme – nearly 650,000 – his ruling would be temporarily stayed for their cases until further court rulings in the case.
“To be clear,” the judge said, the order does not require the government to take “any immigration, deportation or criminal action against any DACA recipient.” Democratic President Joe Biden, who was vice president when Obama created the programme, has said he wants to create a permanent pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers“.
Biden issued a memorandum on his first day in office directing his homeland security secretary to take “all actions he deems appropriate” to “preserve and fortify” the programme, which former President Donald Trump, a Republican, tried to end.
The US Supreme Court last year blocked a bid by Trump to end DACA, saying that his administration had done so in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner.
Hanen’s decision limits the immediate ability of Biden, who pledged during his campaign to protect DACA, to keep the programme or something similar in place. His ruling is the second by a federal judge in Texas stopping Biden’s immigration plans after a court barred enforcement of Biden’s 100-day stay on most deportations.
Biden has already proposed legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the US without authorisation. He also ordered agencies to make efforts to preserve the programme.
Supporters of DACA, including those who argued before Hanen to save it, have said a law passed by Congress is necessary to provide permanent relief. Hanen has said Congress must act if the US wants to provide the protections in DACA to recipients.
The states argued that Obama never had the authority in 2012 to create a programme such as DACA because it circumvented Congress. The states also argued the programme drains their educational and healthcare resources.
Suing alongside Texas were Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia – states that all had Republican governors or state attorneys general.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which defended the programme on behalf of a group of DACA recipients, had argued Obama had the authority to institute DACA and that the states lacked the standing to sue because they had not suffered any harm due to the programme.
While DACA is often described as a programme for young immigrants, many recipients have lived in the US for 10 years or more after being brought into the country without permission or overstaying visas. The liberal Center for American Progress says roughly 254,000 children have at least one parent relying on DACA. Some recipients are grandparents.
The US Supreme Court previously ruled that Trump’s attempt to end DACA in 2017 was unlawful. A New York judge in December ordered the Trump administration to restore the programme as enacted by Obama.