A federal judge in Texas has ruled an Obama-era immigration policy unconstitutional, setting up the potential for hundreds of thousands of deportations to begin.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, policy violated the U.S. Constitution, which requires Congress to manage immigration affairs, not the White House. Former President Barack Obama infamously declared that the children of illegal immigrants, referred to as Dreamers, would be protected from deportation through an executive order.
While Judge Hanen did not call for an immediate end to the program while it works its way through the appeals process, he barred the Biden administration from processing any new applications.
“While sympathetic to the predicament of DACA recipients and their families, this Court has expressed its concerns about the legality of the program for some time,” Hanen wrote in his 40-page ruling. “The solution for these deficiencies lies with the legislature, not the executive or judicial branches. Congress, for any number of reasons, has decided not to pass DACA-like legislation … The Executive Branch cannot usurp the power bestowed on Congress by the Constitution — even to fill a void.”
Eight Republican-led states banded together to overturn the policy, and their attention will now turn to a defense of Hanen’s rulings in appeals courts where they will likely continue to call for an end to the program within two years. Judge Hanen maintained that his ruling does not require the federal government to take any action against Dreamers while the case remains active in the courts.
Immigration advocates criticized the ruling and said a final say would ultimately be up to the Supreme Court.
“Judge Hanen has consistently erred in resolving both of these issues, and today’s ruling is more of the same flawed analysis. We look forward to continuing to defend the lawful and much-needed DACA program on review in higher courts,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration is “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.
“We are deeply disappointed in today’s DACA ruling from the District Court in Southern Texas,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement Wednesday night. “… As we have long maintained, we disagree with the District Court’s conclusion that DACA is unlawful, and will continue to defend this critical policy from legal challenges. While we do so, consistent with the court’s order, DHS will continue to process renewals for current DACA recipients and DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) may continue to accept DACA applications.”
Judge Hanen, appointed in 2002 by former President George W. Bush, previously ruled against DACA in 2021 saying it had not been subject to public notice and comment periods required under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Though the president claimed to have revamped the program by including a public comment period, Hanen concluded the underlying nature of DACA had not changed and was still unconstitutional.
The program has faced a roller coaster of court challenges over the years.
In 2016, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 over an expanded DACA and a version of the program for parents of DACA recipients. In 2020, the high court ruled 5-4 that the Trump administration improperly ended DACA, allowing it to stay in place.
There were 578,680 people enrolled in DACA at the end of March, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to the Associated Press.