A U.S. judge in Texas has ruled the Biden Administration’s strategy for preserving DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — is illegal. The decision eventually could threaten work and deportation protections enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants in the United States.
The Sept. 13 decision by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen affirmed his 2021 ruling that President Barack Obama abused his authority in creating the DACA program in 2012. Hanen also ruled Biden’s subsequent attempt to restructure the program into a federal regulation also is unlawful.
DACA does not provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought into the U.S. as children. But it does allow them to drive, work and seek education without fear of deportation. An estimated 580,000 participants, known as Dreamers, are enrolled in the program.
Hanen’s ruling did not order an immediate termination of DACA. Dreamers currently enrolled in the program can seek renewal, but no new applications will be accepted. Hanen’s decision followed a January request from a coalition of Republican-controlled states, led by Texas, to terminate DACA.
Reaction to the ruling was swift and focused largely on the responsibility of Congress to enact protections for Dreamers and other immigration reforms.
“Americans, including evangelical Christians, are exhausted by our Congress’ decades-long failure to pass even the most common-sense, broadly popular immigration proposals ….”
“Americans, including evangelical Christians, are exhausted by our Congress’ decades-long failure to pass even the most common-sense, broadly popular immigration proposals, such as providing Dreamers with a path to citizenship,” World Relief President Myal Greene said.
“I’m praying that this troubling judicial decision will finally spur members of Congress to work together to pass the Dream Act or other legislation that would provide Dreamers the legal affirmation of what we already know to be true — that this is their home, and they belong here.”
The National Immigration Forum reminded Congress polls consistently have shown widespread American approval of legislative reforms that include pathways to citizenship for Dreamers.
The Forum cited a survey it conducted with the Bullfinch group earlier this year. It showed 76% of registered voters — including 74% of Republicans — desire Republicans and Democrats in Congress to work together to pass “immigration reforms that strengthen border security, allow immigrants brought to the United States as children to earn citizenship, and ensure a legal, reliable workforce for America’s farmers and ranchers.”
“Without action from Congress, DACA recipients, their employers and their communities face an ever more tenuous future.”
“With such broad support, Congress should come to the table now,” Forum President Jennie Murray said. “Without action from Congress, DACA recipients, their employers and their communities face an ever more tenuous future. Families and neighbors face the very real possibility that their loved ones will be forced to retreat into the shadows or return to countries they have never called home.”
The Evangelical Immigration Table sent a letter to Congress the day of Hanen’s ruling, imploring speedy action to pass permanent legislative solutions for Dreamers.
“This issue is central to our Christian faith, as we seek to love our neighbors and be a voice for those whose voices go unheard,” the letter stressed. Signers include the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and other Table members.
The fate of Dreamers should not be entrusted to the courts, the group admonished. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the Biden administration is expected to appeal, upheld Hanen’s previous DACA ruling and “will very likely re-affirm that decision,” their letter said. “And then the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2016 ruled against the legality of a similar deferred action policy, will take up the case and is likely to conclude that DACA was created unlawfully.
“This presumably will mean withdrawing employment authorization from hundreds of thousands of people, whose lives will be thrown into crisis, with negative ripple effects for their families, employers, churches and communities.”
Leaders of secular and faith-based organizations offered a mix of condemnation and encouragement in the wake of the latest DACA decision.
“This ruling is unjust and deeply upsetting,” lamented Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. “DACA recipients are treasured members of our communities, places of worship, workplaces and more. They are now faced with anxiety over the most basic of needs — to remain in the only home they have ever known with their families.”
Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, blasted Hanen’s decision as an outgrowth of anti-immigrant sentiment. “Once again, Dreamers are being made political targets by politicians who engage in fearmongering and scapegoating,” he said. “When is this travesty of destroying lives for political gain enough? Have they no sense of Christian charity?”
Hanen’s ruling has accelerated the urgency regarding Dreamers and their communities, said Matthew Soerens, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief.
“There’s no reason for Congress to wait until further judicial decisions have thrown the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of our Dreamer neighbors into further turmoil,” he said. “They can solve this challenge now by passing legislation to allow Dreamers to apply for permanent legal status and eventually for citizenship in the United States. Whether that’s a stand-alone bill or a part of a larger package of immigration legislation addressing other timely priorities, we urge Congress to put aside partisan divisions and take action now.”
The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities concurs with the majority of Americans who want to see young undocumented immigrants receive a path to citizenship, said its president, Shirley Hoogstra.
“As the DACA program again comes under judicial scrutiny, we call on Congress to create a bipartisan, permanent legislative solution for Dreamers and DACA recipients,” she said. “Congressional action is the best means to provide a long-term solution for these young people and their communities. Please act quickly to provide certainty for Dreamers who are our students, friends, health care workers, and community and church members.”