Politics

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

A federal appeals court on Wednesday said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy violates U.S. 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 for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the Obama administration did not have the legal authority to create DACA in 2012, affirming a July 2021 ruling from a federal judge in Texas who barred 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 shut down DACA completely or stop processing renewal applications, deciding instead to leave in place an order from U.S. Judge Andrew Hanen that left the policy intact for current beneficiaries. The government, however, will continue to be prohibited from approving first-time DACA applications.  

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

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

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

While DACA allows beneficiaries to live and work in the U.S. 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. by age 16 and before June 2007, studied in a U.S. school or served in the military, and lacked any serious criminal record.  

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

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

This is a breaking news story that will be updated.

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