Sister Janet Gildea of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso shows her support for DACA recipients during a rally in El Paso on March 5, 2018. Credit: Julián Aguilar / Texas Tribune

A Tuesday ruling by a federal judge may mean a setback for the Trump administration’s efforts to phase out an Obama-era immigration program that shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates of the District of Columbia said the administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program was never fully explained and could not be justified. However, Bates did allow for a 90-day hold on his ruling “to afford [the Department of a Homeland Security] an opportunity to better explain its view that DACA is unlawful.”

“The Department’s decision to rescind DACA was predicated primarily on its legal judgment that the program was unlawful,” Bates wrote. “That legal judgment was virtually unexplained, however, and so it cannot support the agency’s decision.”

Previous legal challenges from California and New York have forced the federal government to continue to accept renewals, but Tuesday’s decision – if it goes through – would go one step further to require that new applications must also be accepted. The latest development was first reported by the Washington Post.

President Donald Trump announced in September his administration would end the program – which since its inception in 2012 had benefited more than 800,000 recipients including more than 120,000 Texans, according to government statistics – saying it would be phased out over six months to give lawmakers time to come up with a legislative fix.

That six-month deadline came and went in March with the program still tied up in court.

The question of how to keep the program afloat with legislation has perplexed lawmakers in Washington, who have been unable to come up with a solution that is palatable to both parties. In February, the U.S. Senate rejected four separate proposals that would have codified the protections included in DACA while bolstering border security.

Although renewals are still accepted, immigrant rights groups have cautioned that applicants who have pending renewals run the risk of getting caught in what they’ve called the administration’s ramped-up deportation machine.

“For tens of thousands of DACA recipients whose status expires in the coming months, given the time lag between renewal application and a decision by [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services], it is likely that many will lose their work authorization, get fired from their jobs and be at risk for deportation, at least for a period of time,” Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said last month.

There could also be future litigation on the horizon. In January Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that Texas and 12 other states would consider a legal challenge to the 2012 memo that created DACA if the program still existed in June.

That came after Texas and a coalition of other states successfully sued the federal government to prevent a separate Obama-era immigration program, 2014’s DAPA, from being implemented. That initiative sought to expand by millions the number of undocumented immigrants who would be shielded from deportation and allowed to legally work in the United States.


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Julián Aguilar

Julián Aguilar reports on politics and border affairs from the Texas-Mexico border. His focuses include immigration reform and enforcement, voter ID, international trade, border security, and the drug...