A federal appeals court on Wednesday said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy violates U.S. immigration law, dealing a blow to an Obama-era program that offers deportation protection and residency permits work for nearly 600,000 immigrant “dreamers” without legal status.
A three-judge 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that the Obama administration lacked legal authority to create DACA in 2012, claiming aof a Texas federal judge who barred the Biden administration from enrolling new immigrants in the decade-old program.
Despite its finding, the appeals court did not order the Biden administration to completely shut down DACA or stop processing renewal applications, deciding instead to leave an order from U.S. Judge Andrew Hanen in place. which left the policy intact for current beneficiaries. The government, however, will continue to be prohibited from approving initial DACA applications.
The appeals court returned the case to Hanen, instructing him to review regulations the Biden administration unveiled in August to respond to legal challenges to the Obama administration’s decision to create DACA through a memo, instead of a rule open to public comment. The regulations are currently set to come into effect on October 31.
The Justice Department, which is representing the federal government in the lawsuits, said it disagreed with the ruling and pledged to “vigorously defend the legality of DACA as this case is progressing.” The Biden administration is likely to file a formal appeal, paving the way for the conservative-leaning high court to issue a final ruling on the legality of DACA next year.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he was “deeply disappointed” by Wednesday’s court ruling, citing “the ongoing uncertainty it creates for families and communities across the country.” He said his department would continue to process DACA renewal cases.
“We are currently reviewing the court’s decision and will work with the Department of Justice on an appropriate legal response,” Mayorkas added in his statement.
In its decision Wednesday, the three-judge panel found that DACA suffered from the same legal flaws as another Obama-era program that would have offered protection from deportation to unauthorized immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders. The program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), was stalled in court and never implemented.
“Like DAPA, DACA” is foreclosed by Congress’ prudent plan; the program is ‘manifestly contrary to law,'” the ruling said.
Like Hanen, the Texas judge who ruled DACA illegal last summer, the appeals court expressed sympathy for immigrants currently enrolled in the program by justifying its decision to allow the government to continue accepting applications of renewal.
“We also recognize that DACA has had a profound meaning for beneficiaries and many others in the ten years since its adoption,” the court said.
As of June 30, 594,120 immigrants who were brought to the United States as children were registered with DACA, half of whom live in California, Texas and Illinois, according to data published by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that administers the program.
Wednesday’s court ruling stems from a 2018 lawsuit filed by Texas and other Republican-controlled states that argued DACA was an excess of federal immigration powers.
Although DACA allows recipients to legally live and work in the United States without fear of deportation, it does not qualify them for permanent legal status or citizenship. DACA registrants had to prove they had arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and before June 2007, had attended a US school or had served in the military, and had no serious criminal record.
The court ruling could create a renewed sense of urgency in Congress to pass legislation that puts recipients of the program on the path to citizenship, a proposal that has strong bipartisan support among lawmakers and the American public.
For more than two decades, however, proposals to legalize the Dreamers have died in Congress amid intense partisan gridlock on other immigration issues. In the current Congress, Democrats would likely have to agree to border security measures to get the necessary number of Republican votes to pass such a legalization bill.
Mayorkas on Wednesday urged Congress to act “quickly.”
“Last month, DHS released a final rule to preserve and fortify DACA, recognizing that it has transformed the lives of so many Dreamers who have enriched our nation through their contributions,” he said. “It is clear, however, that only passage of the legislation will provide full protection and a well-earned path to citizenship for DACA recipients.”