A federal judge in Texas blocked new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in a ruling Friday, increasing pressure on Congress to find a legislative solution for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors.
Immigration advocates had been expecting the ruling for weeks, fearing Judge Andrew Hanen — a George W. Bush appointee who is known for his tough stance on immigration matters — could rule against the legality of the Obama-era program as a whole.
Hanen ruled that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) "with the creation of DACA and its continued operation."
However, the judge recognized that current DACA enrollees are dependent on the program's benefits — deferral from deportation, advance parole to travel internationally and a work permit — in order to go about their daily lives.
"That reliance has not diminished and may, in fact, have increased over time," wrote Hanen.
On those grounds, Hanen allowed current recipients to maintain and renew their benefits pending a future order from himself, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.
While Hanen's order will leave intact the status of the more than 600,000 current DACA recipients, it also puts in limbo the status of tens or hundreds of thousands of other so-called Dreamers — including 50,000 new DACA applicants who had not yet been enrolled in the program.
“This ruling is wrong and will threaten the safety of tens of thousands of new DACA applicants who will no longer be able to pursue protected status. It must be overturned. The U.S. is the only home that Dreamers have ever known, and they should not be forced to live in fear of deportation," said Sen. Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoAdam Laxalt to be called to testify in trial of Giuliani associate Former Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Top Hispanic group endorses Cortez Masto for reelection MORE (D-Nev.).
DACA was put into place by former President Obama in 2012 after attempts at passing legislation to protect Dreamers failed to pass Congress.
The program was viewed as an executive overreach by its opponents, including former President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE, who made repeated attempts to end DACA.
The Supreme Court in 2020 ruled that Trump's termination order violated the APA, opening the door for the Biden administration to fully reinstate the program.
Biden on his second day as president issued an executive order calling on DHS and the Department of Justice to "preserve and fortify DACA."
But a lawsuit against DACA led by Texas was picked up by Hanen, the same judge whose 2015 injunction blocked the expansion of DACA and its sister program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).
In his 77-page decision, Hanen recognized that the DACA-eligible population could be as high as 1.5 million people.
“Today’s ruling is deeply disappointing, but does not obscure two basic facts: DACA is a tremendous success that has transformed hundreds of thousands of lives, and Congress absolutely must act right away to pass a pathway to citizenship," said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, an immigration advocacy group.
The ruling will also add pressure on Democratic lawmakers, many of whom are seeking to include immigration provisions in an upcoming budget bill.
Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J.), a leading voice for immigration reform in the Senate, tweeted that the decision was "not a surprise, just a painful reminder that we need to stop relying on temporary immigration fixes."
The preliminary plans for the $3.5 trillion Democratic budget plan include a statutory path to citizenship for Dreamers, including DACA recipients, beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, undocumented essential workers and undocumented farmworkers.
“As we aggressively fight this misguided ruling in the courts, we must also act quickly in Congress. That begins by providing a roadmap to citizenship for essential workers, farmworkers, TPS recipients, and Dreamers as part of the upcoming reconciliation package — a popular policy and a key priority of the Progressive Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, and the Asian and Pacific American Caucus," said Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Chairwoman Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote Biden's baffling decisions leave allies wondering where they stand Pelosi: Bipartisan infrastructure vote will happen Monday MORE (D-Wash.) in a statement Friday.
To pass a reconciliation measure, Democrats will need unanimous support from their Senate caucus and near-unanimous support from their House caucus.
No Democrats have so far spoken out against the measure, which has at least tentative support from West Virginia Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Poll from liberal group shows more voters in key states back .5T bill Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D), the most conservative member of the caucus.
But it's still unknown whether the Senate parliamentarian will allow broad legalizations within a reconciliation package, which would eliminate the need to overcome the Senate's 60-vote threshold imposed by the filibuster.
--Updated at 6:55 p.m.