A federal appeals court on Wednesday. said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy violates US immigration law and deals a blow to an Obama-era program that provides protection from deportation and work permits to nearly 600,000 “Dreamers” immigrants who lack legal status.
A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Obama administration did not have the legal authority to create DACA in 2012, asserting afrom a federal judge in Texas who barred the Biden administration from enrolling new immigrants in the decade-old program.
Despite its conclusion, the appeals court did not order the Biden administration to shut down DACA altogether or stop processing renewal applications, but instead decided to uphold an order by U.S. Judge Andrew Hanen that left the policy for DACA intact. current beneficiaries. However, the government will still be prohibited from approving DACA applications for the first time.
The appeals court sent the case back to Hanen, tasking him with reviewing regulations the Biden administration unveiled in August to address legal challenges over the Obama administration’s decision to create DACA through a memorandum, rather than a rule open to public comment. The regulations are currently scheduled to go into effect on October 31.
The Justice Department, which represents the federal government in the lawsuits, said it disagreed with the ruling and vowed to “vigorously defend the legality of DACA as this case proceeds.” The Biden administration is likely to file a formal appeal, paving the way for the conservative-leaning top court to issue a final decision on the legality of DACA next year.
In a statement issued Wednesday night, President Biden said he is “disappointed.”
“The court stay provides a temporary respite for DACA recipients, but one thing is clear: Dreamers’ lives remain in limbo,” he said, adding, “It’s about time Congress passed permanent protections for Dreamers, including a path to citizenship.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he was “deeply disappointed” by Wednesday’s court decision and denounced the “continued 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 Justice Department on an appropriate legal response,” Mayorkas added in his statement.
In its ruling Wednesday, the three-judge panel concluded that DACA had the same legal flaws as another Obama-era program that would have offered protection from deportation to unauthorized immigrant parents of US citizens and green card holders. The program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), was blocked in court and never implemented.
“Like DAPA, DACA “is ruled out by Congress’s careful plan; the program is ‘manifestly contrary to statute,'” the ruling said.
Like Hanen, the Texas judge who outlawed DACA last summer, the appeals court expressed sympathy for immigrants currently enrolled in the program in justifying its decision to allow the government to continue accepting renewal applications.
“We also recognize that DACA has had profound meaning for recipients 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 US as children were enrolled in DACA, half of whom live in California, Texas and Illinois, according to data published by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that administers the program.
Wednesday’s court ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in 2018 by Texas and other Republican-controlled states that have argued DACA was an overreach of the federal government’s immigration powers.
While DACA allows recipients to live and work in the US legally without fear of deportation, it does not qualify them for permanent lawful status or citizenship. DACA enrollees had to show that they came to the US at age 16 and before June 2007, attended a US school or served in the military, and did not have a serious criminal record.
The court’s ruling could create a renewed sense of urgency in Congress to pass legislation to put program beneficiaries on a path to citizenship, a proposal that has strong bipartisan support among lawmakers and the American public.
Yet for more than two decades, proposals to legalize Dreamers have died in Congress amid intense partisan gridlock over other immigration issues. In the current Congress, Democrats would likely have to agree to border security measures to secure the necessary number of Republican votes to pass such a legalization bill.
Mayorkas urged Congress on Wednesday to take action “quickly.”
“Last month, DHS issued a final rule to preserve and strengthen DACA, recognizing that it has transformed the lives of so many Dreamers who have enriched our nation through their contributions,” he said. “However, it is clear that only the passage of the legislation will provide full protection and a well-earned path to citizenship for DACA recipients.”