In a significant blow to the Biden administration, a federal judge in Texas, Andrew S. Hanen, rejected the latest effort to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program, created by President Barack Obama in 2012, has protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented young adults, known as Dreamers, from deportation. Judge Hanen maintained that President Obama exceeded his authority when he created the program through executive action. This decision is the latest development in a long-standing legal battle that has left the program and its beneficiaries in limbo.
While the ruling is a setback for immigrants, the judge did not immediately end the program. Current DACA recipients will be able to keep and renew their protection, but no new applications will be allowed. The Biden administration had attempted to bolster the program's legal standing through a rule-making procedure in 2021, but Judge Hanen dismissed the administration's efforts, stating that there were no material differences between the new rule and the original 2012 memorandum.
Legal experts predict that the government will appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and ultimately, the case is likely to reach the Supreme Court. Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented DACA beneficiaries in court, emphasized the need for higher courts to decide the fate of the program.
The legal battle over DACA began in 2018 when several states, led by Texas, filed a lawsuit arguing that the program was unlawful. In 2021, Judge Hanen ruled that DACA was illegal due to the government's failure to fulfill a mandatory public notice-and-comment period. The following year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld Judge Hanen's decision but sent the case back to the lower court to review a new DACA rule implemented by the Biden administration.
In his ruling, Judge Hanen concluded that the new rule was unlawful for the same reasons as the original 2012 memorandum. The program, which has benefited more than 800,000 young people since its inception, allows recipients to remain in the country and receive work permits. DACA beneficiaries, who were brought to the United States as children, have built lives and careers in the country thanks to the program's protection.
The ruling has left DACA recipients in a state of uncertainty. Kathleen Bush-Joseph, a lawyer and policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, expressed concern about the lack of a definitive resolution for DACA holders. Despite broad public support for granting Dreamers legal status, Congress has failed to pass a permanent solution, leaving the program vulnerable to legal challenges and political debates.
President Obama initially introduced DACA as a temporary measure until Congress could pass legislation. However, hopes for a legislative fix faded in the face of a contentious political climate surrounding immigration. President Donald J. Trump fulfilled a campaign promise to terminate DACA in 2017, but the Supreme Court reinstated it in 2020, citing inadequate justification for its elimination. The program's fate now rests on the outcome of the ongoing legal battle.
While the legal proceedings continue, DACA recipients, such as Sebastian Melendez, face uncertainty about their futures. Melendez, who was born in Peru, completed nursing school and now works at Johns Hopkins Hospital, thanks to DACA. He emphasized the need for Congress to provide a permanent solution instead of prolonging the uncertainty for Dreamers.
As the legal battle over DACA continues, the future of the program remains uncertain. Congress has the power to enact permanent protections for Dreamers, but previous attempts, such as the DREAM Act, have failed to gain sufficient support. In the meantime, the fate of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients hangs in the balance, awaiting a final resolution from higher courts.
themes: Immigrants Barack Obama Texas