Judge rules Obama-era DACA immigration program illegal

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(AUSTIN) — A federal judge in Texas ruled Friday that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program was unlawful in a significant blow to the Obama-era approach that shielded young people brought to the country illegally from deportation.

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen sided with a group of nine states led by Texas and concluded that the creation of the DACA program violated federal administrative law. Hanen emphasized in his decision that his ruling does not compel immigration authorities to arrest and deport recipients, but it does make them eligible.

DACA was created by former President Barack Obama in 2012 to provide relief for the growing population of undocumented immigrant minors, sometimes called Dreamers, who had little to no say in their immigration process due to their youth. It’s estimated there are about 650,000 people who hold DACA status, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Lawyers with the Texas Attorney General’s Office argued that the Obama administration overextended its executive authority in creating the program. They were joined in the lawsuit by Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented a group of DACA recipients in defending the program, argued in a prior hearing on the matter that Texas shouldn’t be successful in its lawsuit because none of the states were harmed by the existence of DACA.

The DACA program has maintained bipartisan political support even as Republican-led states have moved to end it. A solid majority — 75% — of Republicans favor allowing recipients the chance to obtain citizenship along with 92% of Democrats, according to a 2018 Gallup survey.

Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said DACA is the only way the president can exercise discretion.

“When you’re dealing with the number of people that the immigration system has to deal with, you have to make resource decisions,” Saenz said. “It’s hard to imagine an efficient way of doing it otherwise.”

The Biden administration could act to change the program in a way that would satisfy Hanen’s ruling, but still, the future for many DACA recipients will likely face the Supreme Court once again.

The ruling also ramps up pressure on Biden to achieve a legislative victory for DACA recipients, possibly through the reconciliation process.

In response to the news, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in a tweet, said it was “more important than ever for Congress to pass permanent protections for Dreamers and provide a pathway to citizenship.”

ABC News’ Ben Siegel and Justin Fishel contributed to this report.

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