No immediate ruling after hearing on fate of DACA program

Kathia Ramirez, right, holds her son Rowen Salinas, 11 months, as her husband Randy Salinas holds their daughter Fridah Salinas, 2, during a protest in favor of DACA Tuesday September 5, 2017 in front of the Texas Attorney General's office in Pharr. Ramirez, 24, was brought to the U.S. when she was seven years old, her husband and children are all U.S. citizens. (Nathan Lambrecht | nlambrecht@themonitor.com)

JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal judge did not immediately issue a ruling following a court hearing Tuesday on the fate of a U.S. program shielding immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

During a nearly 3 1/2 hour hearing, Texas and eight other states asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which provides limited protections to about 650,000 people. The program was enacted by former President Barack Obama in 2012.

The states, represented by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, argued that DACA violates the Constitution by circumventing Congress’ authority on immigration laws.

“President Obama overstepped his authority when his administration issued the DACA memorandum in 2012 and nothing can change that,” Todd Disher, a lawyer with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, told Hanen.

A group of DACA recipients represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office asked Hanen to dismiss the lawsuit. They argued that Obama had the authority to institute DACA and that the states lack the standing to sue.

Hanen is expected to rule at a later date.

The U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that President Donald Trump’s attempt to end DACA in 2017 was unlawful. A New York judge in December ordered the Trump administration to restore the program.

But the Houston case directly targets the original terms under which DACA was created.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to protect DACA, but a ruling against the program could limit his ability to keep the program or something similar in place.

“DACA has to be replaced by a legislative approach,” said MALDEF’s president, Thomas Saenz.

While DACA is often described as a program for young immigrants, many recipients have lived in the U.S. for a decade or longer after being brought into the country without permission or overstaying visas. The liberal Center for American Progress says roughly 254,000 children have at least one parent relying on DACA. Some recipients are grandparents.

In a court filing, the states suing to end DACA said the program represents a “limitless notion of executive power that, if left unchecked, could allow future Presidents to dismantle other duly enacted laws.” Suing alongside Texas are Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia — states that all have Republican governors or state attorneys general.

Hanen rejected Texas’ request in 2018 to stop the program through a preliminary injunction, but he has said he believes DACA as enacted by Obama is unconstitutional. In 2015, Hanen ruled that Obama could not expand DACA protections or institute a program shielding their parents.

“If the nation truly wants to have a DACA program, it is up to Congress to say so,” Hanen wrote in 2018.

Congress has not acted since, with proposals falling short amid disputes between the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate.

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