DACA court hearing energizes advocates on both sides


An appellate court on Wednesday heard arguments on a key immigration case that could determine the future of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants.

The case, which involves the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, riled up opponents and supporters of the Obama-era program, but it’s unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

“There is no established timeline for when they must or will decide the case,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund.

“But we do know that when a decision is rendered it is likely that whichever side finds itself in disagreement with the decision will then consider further action. Either request for a full hearing by the entire 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or petition to the Supreme Court,” added Saenz.

A 5th Circuit panel in New Orleans took up the appeal led by the Biden administration, a group of DACA beneficiaries and the state of New Jersey against a ruling by District Judge Andrew Hanen, who last year decreed DACA to be illegal.

Texas, which led a multistate lawsuit against DACA, argued in favor of Hanen’s decision.

While the 5th Circuit could take weeks or months to come to a decision, the hearing renewed passions in a legal fight that sits at the core of the country’s disagreements on immigration. 

“DACA has been under attack since its inception,” said Greisa Martínez Rosas, executive director at United We Dream, an immigrant youth advocacy organization.

“The forces working against us are not shy about what they want. They want to end DACA and put all immigrants on a path towards detention and deportation. Republican governors continue to deliberately use DACA as a political weapon and continue to politicize our court systems,” she added.

It’s no coincidence that the DACA case is before the conservative 5th Circuit. Texas filed the lawsuit against the program in Brownsville, hoping for it to be heard by Hanen and then the 5th Circuit on its way to the Supreme Court.

Hanen, a vocal critic of immigration benefits who previously struck down an expansion of DACA and a partner program to protect parents of DACA recipients, ruled last year that the program had been illegal all along.

The ruling prevented the Biden administration from signing up new beneficiaries for the 10-year-old program, but Hanen himself tempered his ruling, avoiding stripping existing recipients of their benefits.

Still, immigrant advocates and “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors — picketed the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans on Wednesday as the judges inside heard arguments.

The defendants, supporting a continuation of DACA, argued Texas had no standing to sue to terminate the program and that the Obama administration properly implemented DACA and had the power to do so.

“More recently, a fourth issue arose: recent Supreme Court decisions surrounding whether federal law prevented the implementation of an injunction nationwide against DACA, specifically whether the Immigration and Nationality Act restricts the ability of the federal court in respect to DACA,” said Saenz.

While it’s unclear how or when the 5th Circuit panel will rule, the arguments energized the program’s supporters.

“We will continue to organize, unapologetically, with hope and love. We will continue to fight with this movement — lawyers like the ones represented on this call,”  said Martínez Rosas.

“And we need our elected leaders, congressional Democrats and Republicans, President Biden to do the same, to pass permanent legislation so that we are no longer living court case to court case. The time is now. Our home is here. And we’re here to stay,” she added.

Armed with Hanen’s ruling, opponents of DACA and other liberalized interpretations of immigration law have been similarly energized.

“When President Obama created DACA, he bypassed Congress’s unambiguous authority to decide who may enter and remain in our nation,” said RJ Hauman, director of government relations and communications at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that advocates for reduced immigration.

“Our duly enacted immigration laws are clear. DACA beneficiaries are illegal aliens who have no legal right to live and work in this country and are subject to removal. These laws cannot be changed or ignored through an executive order, policy memorandum or regulation,” added Hauman.

With midterms quickly approaching, rhetoric tying border management to immigration has consistently escalated among many Republicans, to the point where a group of county leaders in Texas declared an official “invasion” of immigrants at the border.

Texas statewide elected officials sprang up in support of the declaration of the so-called invasion.

“We are being invaded, and if we are being invaded under the constitution I think that gives us the power to put hands on people and send them back,” Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) told Fox News on Tuesday.

“We’re being attacked just as we were on Pearl Harbor,” he added.

Tags Andrew Hanen Biden DACA Dreamers immigration policy Obama

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