San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Biden pledges to challenge ruling invalidating DACA
Oakland resident Juan Prieto shuddered when he learned Friday that a federal judge in Texas invalidated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields thousands of young immigrants from deportation.
Judge Andrew Hanen, a President George W. Bush appointee to a U.S. District Court in southern Texas, ruled the program to be unlawful and instructed the government to halt approval of new applications. President Biden announced Saturday that the Department of Justice will appeal the ruling, which instantly upended the only available path to stability for an unknown number of beneficiaries, known as “Dreamers.”
In 2019, the government received almost 315,000 new and renewal applications and processed nearly 300,000.
Prieto’s younger siblings were poised to join him as Dreamers. Kassandra Merlos, his sister, had a fingerprinting appointment set for this month. Now, the recent UC Riverside graduate “is back in that weird limbo that is often created around DACA,” Prieto said of Merlos.
Prieto is the digital communications manager for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and he himself has protection from deportation and the right to work thanks to DACA, the initiative adopted through a 2012 executive order by President Barack Obama. The program is only for immigrants who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 and were younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012. Applicants must be at least 15.
Prieto fit the criteria and has successfully renewed his status since it was first granted nine years ago. Yet his younger siblings have not been so fortunate. Their path to a stable immigration status has been turbulent as it coincided with the Trump administration’s attacks on the program.
After the Supreme Court overturned President Donald Trump’s 2018 repeal of the program in June 2020, Prieto’s siblings applied. When the fingerprinting notice arrived two weeks ago, the family was elated — the end finally seemed near.
Biden, in a statement Saturday, called the ruling out of Texas “deeply disappointing.” The president also challenged Congress to create a permanent path to citizenship for DACA recipients and signaled that he might use a tactic known as reconciliation to circumvent Republican opposition to an immigration deal in the Senate.
“It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear,” Biden’s statement concluded.
While Friday’s ruling allows new DACA applications to come in, it blocks the government from approving any. The ruling does allow the program’s more than 640,000 current recipients to remain unaffected.
The ruling was immediately criticized by immigrant rights groups and prominent Bay Area Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who called the decision “not only profoundly misguided, it’s wrong on the law” in a statement.
DACA is one of the few areas of immigration policy that has garnered some measure of bipartisan support over the years. Yet the program’s popularity did not sway Judge Hanen.
“As popular as this program might be, the proper origination point for the DACA program was, and is, Congress,” Hanen wrote in his 77page ruling. The judge also said the Obama administration had not followed proper procedure in enacting the program because it did not solicit public comment on
DACA before adopting it.
Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, believes there are several grounds for appeal.
“The analysis is simply mistaken about the DACA program,” Jadwat said. He added that he finds “serious flaws in the reasoning,” leading to “potentially several layers of appeal to come.”
One of the groups that could join an appeal is the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund of Los Angeles, which intervened on DACA recipients’ behalf in the Texas case. Thomas A. Saenz, the group’s general counsel, said Friday that he also believes there are many grounds on which to mount a successful legal challenge.
“This Supreme Court certainly recognizes how it has broadened presidential authority by allowing a number of (executive) actions taken by Donald Trump to remain in place,” Saenz said.
Saenz said the primary example is the border wall that President Trump decreed possible through an executive order in 2017. “That was a clear violation of Congress’ decision, and it was clearly not an emergency because he had been calling for a wall for several years and yet the Supreme Court left that in place,” Saenz said.
Judge Hanen is not new to highprofile immigration cases. In 2015, he issued a ruling that blocked another Obama program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, which would have granted legal status to undocumented parents who had lived in the U.S. since 2010 and had children who were either U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. He also blocked Obama’s expansion of DACA.
The rulings survived after the Supreme Court deadlocked 44 when it was one member short after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.
Hanen also ruled in 2018 that DACA was most likely illegal but declined to issue the injunction sought by Texas and other states, citing the number of people who relied on the program. Then last year the Supreme Court upheld DACA, ruling that the Trump administration had failed to give an adequate explanation for rescinding it or show any consideration of the interests of DACA recipients.
While the federal government will appeal, Saenz said his team has yet to decide next steps. The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund is talking with the 22 clients it represents, but Saenz said there were “no decisions yet on that from our perspective.”
Prieto said this should be the moment that Congress acts on behalf of many more immigrants who also are in precarious and temporary immigration situations, including seasonal workers and those with temporary protected status, which allows immigrants to live and work in the U.S. for a limited amount of time.
“We need solutions that are not temporary, like DACA,” the Oakland resident said. “We need solutions that are permanent.”