On July 16, 2021, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is unlawful, claiming that President Barack Obama overstepped his authority when he created it through executive action in 2012.
While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may continue to accept new applications, the ruling temporarily prohibits the agency from approving them. Current DACA beneficiaries—also known as “Dreamers”—may renew their protections for now.
DACA protects more than 600,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation and allows them to live and work in the United States. Most recipients are from Mexico, while others are from many other countries, such as the Philippines, South Korea, New Zealand, and Uganda.
President Donald Trump attempted to end DACA in 2017; however, several federal courts blocked the effort. In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration failed to follow administrative procedures to modify or repeal the executive actions of a prior president.
Keep in mind, the 2020 case presented a different legal issue. While that case addressed how a president can undo a predecessor’s executive action, the most recent ruling weighed in on the legality of the Obama-era program itself.
Judge Hanen sided with Texas and other states that filed a lawsuit in 2018, calling DACA an “illegally implemented program.” He did not issue a preliminary injunction to immediately terminate the program, stating that doing so would not serve in the country’s best interests.
Shortly after the ruling, President Joe Biden and the Justice Department (DOJ) vowed to appeal the federal judge’s decision. Yet, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is considered one of the most conservative federal courts of appeals, so if the Fifth Circuit upholds Haden’s ruling and Supreme Court decides not to hear the case—which it often does to most cases—then DACA will be terminated.
It appears the only government body that can offer a permanent solution for DACA recipients is Congress through legislation. The Dream and Promise Act—which has now been passed twice by the House of Representatives—would provide Dreamers with a pathway to citizenship.