HOUSTON – A federal judge did not make an immediate decision Thursday on the fate of a revised version of a federal policy that prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
During a court hearing, attorneys representing the nine states that have sued to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program argued the updated policy is essentially the same as the 2012 memo that first created it and asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to again find the program illegal.
In 2021, Hanen declared DACA illegal, ruling that the program had not been subjected to public notice and comment periods required under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Hanen also said the states seeking to stop it had standing to file their lawsuit because they had been harmed by the program.
"Every aspect of this program is ... unlawful," said Ryan Walters, with the Texas Attorney General's Office, which is representing the states that filed the lawsuit. The states have also argued that the White House overstepped its authority by granting immigration benefits that are for Congress to decide.
The states have claimed they incur hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, education and other costs when immigrants are allowed to remain in the country illegally. The states that sued are Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kansas and Mississippi.
Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department, DACA recipients and the state of New Jersey argued during the hearing the states have failed to present any evidence that any of the costs they allege they have incurred because of illegal immigration have been tied to DACA recipients.
They also argued Congress has given the Department of Homeland Security the legal authority to set immigration enforcement policies.
But the lawyers arguing for DACA, acknowledging that Hanen could again rule against them, also asked Hanen to not completely end the program if that's what he would ultimately decide to do. They instead asked Hanen to only end those parts of the program he would deem as illegal. Lawyers for the states asked that the entire program be shut down within a four-year period after a final ruling.
Texas and the other states filed their lawsuit because they disagree with immigration policy and not because of concerns over the implementation of laws, said Nina Perales, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who spoke before Hanen on behalf of DACA recipients.
Hanen did not immediately rule after Thursday’s court hearing or give a timeframe for when he would issue a ruling.
“We will rule on this as expeditiously as we can," said Hanen, who was appointed by then-President George W. Bush in 2002.
Before and after Thursday's hearing, more than 50 people gathered near and in front of the courthouse to show their support for DACA. Many of them held up signs that read: “Immigration Reform Now” and “Defend DACA.”
Maritza Gutierrez Ramos, 28, a DACA recipient who traveled from Dallas to attend the court hearing, said the program has given her many opportunities but she remains filled with anxiety and wants something more permanent.
“I'm trying to be optimistic and if doesn’t go our way, God will provide us with better things,” said Gutierrez Ramos, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 11 months old.
Isaias Guerrero, 38, a DACA recipient who traveled from Washington, D.C., to attend the court hearing, described the claims made by Texas' lawyers about the state's costs tied to illegal immigration as “hollow arguments.”
“There was no mention of the amount of money we pay in taxes ... and the overall contribution to society,” said Guerrero, who immigrated from Colombia when he was 15 years old and grew up in Indiana.
In 2022, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld Hanen’s earlier ruling declaring DACA illegal, but sent the case back to him to review changes made to the program by the Biden administration.
The new version of DACA took effect in October and was subject to public comments as part of a formal rule-making process.
Hanen has left the Obama-era program intact for those already benefiting from it. But he previously ruled there can be no new applicants while appeals are pending.
There were 580,310 people enrolled in DACA at the end of December, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Whatever decision Hanen makes is expected to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court for a third time.
In 2016, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 over an expanded DACA and a version of the program for parents of DACA recipients. In 2020, the high court ruled 5-4 that the Trump administration improperly ended DACA, allowing it to stay in place.
President Joe Biden and advocacy groups have called on Congress to pass permanent protections for “ Dreamers,” which is what people protected by DACA are commonly called. Congress has failed multiple times to pass proposals called the DREAM Act to protect DACA recipients.
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