A federal appeals court on Wednesday said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy violates US immigration law, dealing a blow to an Obama-era program that provides deportation protection and work permits to nearly 600,000 immigrant “Dreamers” who lack legal status.
A three-judge panel for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the Obama administration did not have the legal authority to create DACA in 2012, affirming 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 completely or stop processing renewal applications, deciding instead to leave in place an order from US Judge Andrew Hanen that left the policy intact for current beneficiaries. The government, however, will continue to be prohibited from approving first-time DACA applications.
The appeals court sent the case back to Hanen, tasking him with reviewing regulations that the Biden administration unveiled in August to address the legal challenges over the Obama administration’s decision to create DACA through a memo, instead of a rule open to public comments. The regulations are currently slated to go into effect on October 31.
The Justice Department, which represents the federal government in arguments, did not immediately say whether it would ask the Supreme Court to pause Wednesday’s ruling. The Biden administration is likely to file a formal appeal, paving the way for the conservative-leaning high court to issue a final decision on DACA’s legality next year.
In its ruling Wednesday, the three-judge panel concluded that DACA had the same legal defects as another Obama-era program that would have offered deportation protection to the unauthorized immigrant parents of US citizens and green card holders. The program, known as the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), was blocked in court and was never implemented.
“Like DAPA, DACA “is foreclosed by Congress’s careful plan; the program is ‘manifestly contrary to the statute,'” the ruling said.
Like Hanen, the Texas judge who declared DACA unlawful 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 significance to 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 US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that administers the program.
Wednesday’s court ruling stems from a argument 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 beneficiaries to live and work in the US legally without fear of deportation, it does not qualify them for permanent legal status or citizenship. Those enrolled in DACA had to prove they arrived in the US by age 16 and before June 2007, studied in a US school or served in the military, and lacked any serious criminal record.
The court ruling could create a renewed sense of urgency in Congress to pass legislation that places the program’s beneficiaries on path to citizenship, a proposal with robust bipartisan support among lawmakers and the American public.
For over two decades, however, proposals to legalize Dreamers have died in Congress amid intense partisan gridlock over other immigration issues. In the current Congress, Democrats would likely need to accept border security measures to secure the necessary number of Republican votes to pass such a legalization bill.
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