On Friday, Judge Andrew Hanen delivered a ruling that many immigration advocates had been both fearing and anticipating: DACA is officially “unlawful.” The news immediately reverberated around the country as lawmakers, and even the White House, vowed to deliver on immigration reform.
Hanen’s ruling does not immediately impact current DACA holders (often referred to as Dreamers) and their renewals, but the verdict blocks new applications to the DACA program. According to immigration advocate Astrid Silva, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) were informing potential applicants that their appointments were canceled due to the ruling.
In 2012, President Obama announced DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which would permit young immigrants brought to the United States as children to remain temporarily in the country with two-year work visas. DACA narrowly survived last year after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Trump administration’s efforts to end the program were illegal.
With Attorney General Ken Paxton, Texas was the leader in a coalition of Republican-led states attempting to terminate DACA once again. Oral arguments were heard in Hanen’s court in December. The two defenders of DACA were the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the state of New Jersey. On Twitter, Paxton called Hanen’s ruling “a great win for the rule of law.”
United We Dream, one of the largest youth-led immigration groups in the country, hosted a rally on Monday morning outside the U.S. District Court in Houston where Hanen is based. At a press conference following the rally, leaders from United We Dream demanded that Congress take up immigration reform.
Nina Perales, the Vice President of Litigation for MALDEF, echoed those sentiments in a statement about the ruling. “Judge Hanen ruled that DACA will continue for current recipients, and he took special note of DACA recipients’ reliance for almost a decade on this policy,” said Perales. “It’s now up to Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform so that Dreamers can continue to build their lives in the U.S.”
President Biden also announced a statement after the ruling, calling on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, which would establish a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and TPS (temporary permanent status) holders. “It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.”
Before Hanen’s ruling, there was discussion in Washington that immigration reform could appear in the budget reconciliation bill. Under current filibuster rules, the American Dream and Promise Act would need to pass with sixty votes in the Senate, while in reconciliation it would only require fifty votes.
Biden is also deferential to the Senate parliamentarian, an unelected official who decides what can or cannot be included in the Senate budget. Former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro argued that if the parliamentarian does rule against the reconciliation language, the filibuster would need to be addressed.
The Biden administration did announce that the DACA ruling would be appealed by the Department of Justice. The Acting Director of USCIS Tracy Renaud also provided a statement indicating the agency would continue to process renewals for current DACA holders.