HOUSTON – 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 DACA violates the Constitution by circumventing Congress’ authority on immigration laws. The states also argued that DACA illegally awards benefits such as work authorization to recipients and has increased states' costs, including $250 million a year for social services to DACA recipients in Texas.
“President Obama overstepped his authority when his administration issued the DACA memorandum in 2012," 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 Obama had the authority to institute DACA.
Nina Perales, a lawyer for MALDEF, told Hanen that the states lack standing to sue because they weren't harmed by DACA, as benefits such as work authorization for recipients were not given by DACA but authorized under other programs and regulations that had previously been created.
The states' case “is like a doughnut. The center is empty," said Perales.
Hanen is expected to rule at a later date.
But the Houston case directly targets the original terms under which DACA was created.
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.
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.
But Congress has not taken any action related to DACA in recent years.
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 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.
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 Obama could not expand DACA protections or institute a program shielding their parents.
Hanen said Tuesday’s hearing was not about discussing border security or whether DACA is good or bad policy, but “whether DACA was legally created.”
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.
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