Federal Judge Declares DACA Illegal, While Allowing Existing DACA Recipients to Renew Benefits


Source: Flickr: Molly Adams, LA March for Immigrant Rights 

In a stunning turn of events, a federal judge on Wednesday declared the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program illegal in a new court ruling.

The decision comes after a five-year long court battle which has left the future of Dreamers hanging in the balance.

Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the District Court of Houston rejected the Biden administration’s efforts to save the DACA program, arguing that former President Barack Obama did not have the authority to create the program in 2012 by executive authority.

In his ruling, Judge Hanen stopped short of terminating the program which will mean that current DACA recipients can retain their DACA benefits and apply for renewals with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, initial first-time applications for DACA will remain prohibited.

In 2021, the Biden administration sought to defend the legality of DACA by issuing a Proposed Rule in the Federal Register to preserve and fortify the program. This came after Judge Hanen issued a prior ruling arguing that the government failed to abide by the public notice and comment procedure required by the Administrative Procedures Act before. This prompted Texas along with eight other states (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kansas, Mississippi) to sue the federal government bringing the case before Judge Hanen yet again.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s efforts to appease the Judge did not work. Ultimately the Judge indicated that only Congress could enact legislation to protect Dreamers, and passing such a program was not under the authority of the President.

The ruling will certainly lead to a showdown in the United States Supreme Court, where the issue of DACA will likely be heard for a third time.

The parties defending the program include the federal government, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the state of New Jersey.

This is a terrible decision however one that comes as no surprise. The DACA program has been under fire for decades with no clear path to citizenship for DACA recipients who have been living in a state of limbo.

We share in the sentiment of AILA President Farshad Owji who had this to say about the ruling, “In plain terms, Judge Hanen’s ruling is incorrect. DACA is well within the President’s constitutionally granted authority. Since it was created, DACA has protected thousands of Dreamers who have strengthened American families, communities, and the economy. The decision from Judge Hanen allows current DACA recipients to maintain their status, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will continue processing renewals for DACA status, which will keep hundreds of thousands of people safe from deportation. But new applicants are still stuck needlessly waiting, facing an uncertain future.”

What this means for DACA recipients

Judge Hanen’s decision does not take away DACA renewals for current DACA recipients. Only the appeals court or Supreme Court has the power to rescind existing DACA benefits. It is important to remember that:

  • DACA renewals are still open. However, this could change in the future. That is why we urge you to renew your DACA benefits as soon as possible while the courts are still allowing these applications to be processed with USCIS.
  • First-time DACA applications remain prohibited and will not be processed by USCIS.

For more information about this ruling please click here.

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