Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibility
Close Alert

DACA faces another likely date with Supreme Court unless Congress steps in

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2019, file photo people rally outside the Supreme Court over President Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), at the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2019, file photo people rally outside the Supreme Court over President Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), at the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon

The fate of hundreds of thousands of undocumented young adults is up in the air again after a federal judge ruled that the rule protecting them from deportation is unlawful despite changes from the Biden administration, setting up a likely Supreme Court decision on the program without congressional intervention.

Federal Judge Andrew Hanen in the U.S. District Court in Houston issued a ruling on Wednesday that said the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals — or DACA — was not legal despite efforts by the Biden administration to revise it to satisfy previous legal concerns. While the program was ruled illegal, Hanen did not order an immediate end to it and the protections it offers.

The case is expected to make its way to the Supreme Court after it is appealed by the Justice Department, which will be the program’s third time in front of the high court after a series of legal challenges and a lack of legislative action from Congress.

“While sympathetic to the predicament of DACA recipients and their families, this Court has expressed its concerns about the legality of the program for some time,” Hanen wrote in his 40-page ruling. “The solution for these deficiencies lies with the legislature, not the executive or judicial branches. Congress, for any number of reasons, has decided not to pass DACA-like legislation ... The Executive Branch cannot usurp the power bestowed on Congress by the Constitution — even to fill a void.”

The order extended an injunction already in place against DACA that does not allow the government from approving new applications while allowing it to stay in place for existing recipients during the legal battle.

“This (ruling) is really a signal to Congress, ‘If you guys really do think that this dreamer population is worthy of having some kind of immigration status. You guys need to fix this legislatively,’” said Erin Corcoran, a professor at Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs.

DACA was one of the signature policies from the Obama administration, which now-President Joe Biden was serving as vice president in and has sought to protect and expand. There were 578,680 people, known as Dreamers, enrolled in DACA at the end of March according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In order to be eligible for DACA, immigrants must have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives, passed a background check and have completed high school, along with other requirements.

The White House said it was disappointed in the ruling and that it disagreed with the decision.

“We are committed to protecting all the Dreamers who have throughout their lives enriched our communities and our country, and we continue to call on Congress to provide permanent protection to the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers in the United States,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

DACA has faced a flood of legal challenges over the last several years as states argue it costs them hundreds of millions in costs when immigrants are allowed to stay in the U.S. illegally. Former President Donald Trump’s administration also promised to end the program but was ordered to keep it in place by a Supreme Court ruling.

The program has broad support from voters across the political spectrum and with members on both sides of the aisle in Congress, but a permanent legislative solution has alluded Congress. Various versions of the DREAM Act have been passed in both chambers over the last two decades but every effort to get a bill on the president’s desk has come up short.

Like other aspects of the country’s immigration system and policies, the DREAM Act has gotten caught up in partisan disagreements over border security, immigration levels and other issues that have divided the parties. It has been difficult for matching standalone bills to get to the floor in each chamber despite the broad support.

“What the quickest thing would be for Congress is to pass like a standalone DREAM Act just by itself, in its original form, and the president to sign it, and not allow any other sort of immigration legislation to be attached to it,” Corcoran said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act in light of the ruling. Durbin introduced the bill earlier this Congress along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“It’s time for Congress to step up and meet our responsibility to Dreamers once and for all. I hope we can meet our obligation as lawmakers to solve this problem and pass the Dream Act, not just for the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers out there, but for the future of our country,” Durbin said.

With a path forward on legislation looking uncertain, the case and fate of nearly 600,000 Dreamers could be left up to the Supreme Court. The court has not ruled on the program’s legality in past cases, instead issuing more narrow rulings on the process of implementing or attempting to end it.

“Part of the question is going to be how the Supreme Court sees the DACA program. Do they see it more as a domestic program because it's giving people who already exist here some kind of temporary immigration benefit and the ability to work in the United States?” Corcoran said. “Or do they see it as an extension of immigration law in general, which is typically understood as a function of being a sovereign and deciding who gets to come and who gets to stay?”

Loading ...