Court declares DACA program illegal, but leaves policy intact for nearly 600,000 immigrant “Dreamers”

A federal appeals court on Wednesday said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy violates US immigration law, dealing a blow to an Obama-era program that provides deportation protection and work permits to nearly 600,000 immigrant “dreamers” who lack legal status.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Obama administration did not have the legal authority to create DACA in 2012, upholding a judgment in July 2021 from a federal judge in Texas that blocked the Biden administration from enrolling new immigrants in the decade-old program.

Despite its conclusion, the appeals court did not order the Biden administration to completely shut down DACA or stop processing renewal applications, opting instead to uphold an order from U.S. Judge Andrew Hanen that left the policy intact for current recipients. However, the government will continue to be prohibited from approving first-time DACA applications.

The appeals court sent the case back to Hanen and tasked him with reviewing the rules the Biden administration unveiled in August to address the legal challenges to the Obama administration’s decision to create DACA through a memo, rather than a rule. is open for public comment. The rules are currently scheduled to take effect on October 31.

The Justice Department, which represents the federal government in the lawsuits, did not immediately say whether it would ask the Supreme Court to halt Wednesday’s ruling. The Biden administration is likely to file a formal appeal, paving the way for the conservative-leaning Supreme Court to issue a final ruling on DACA’s legality next year.

In its decision Wednesday, the three-judge panel concluded that DACA had the same legal flaws as another Obama-era program that would have offered deportation protection to the unauthorized immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders. The program, known as deferred action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), was blocked in court and was never implemented.

“Like DAPA, DACA” is excluded by Congress’ careful plan; the program is ‘manifestly in breach of the statute’, the judgment states.

Like Hanen, the Texas judge who declared DACA illegal last summer, the appeals court expressed sympathy for immigrants currently enrolled in the program in justifying its decision to allow the government to continue accepting renewal applications.

“We also recognize that DACA has had a profound impact on recipients and many others in the ten years since its enactment,” the court said.

Per As of June 30, 594,120 immigrants brought to the United States as children were enrolled in DACA, half of whom live in California, Texas and Illinois, according to data released by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that administers the program.

Wednesday’s court decision stems from a lawsuit filed in 2018 by Texas and other Republican-controlled states that have argued that DACA was an overreach of the federal government’s immigration powers.

While DACA allows recipients to live and work in the United States legally without fear of deportation, it does not qualify them for permanent legal status or citizenship. Those enrolled in DACA had to prove they arrived in the U.S. at age 16 and before June 2007, studied at a U.S. school or served in the military, and lacked any serious criminal records.

The court decision could create a renewed sense of urgency in Congress to pass legislation that puts the program’s recipients on a path to citizenship, a proposal with robust bipartisan support among lawmakers and the American public.

For more than two decades, however, proposals to legalize Dreamers have died in Congress amid an intense partisan dispute over other immigration issues. In the current Congress, Democrats would likely have to accept border security measures to secure the necessary number of Republican votes to pass such a legalization bill.

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