Federal judge finds DACA unlawful, blocks new applicants

Current recipients are unaffected for now, but the Texas court ruling could spur congressional action.

A federal judge in Texas on Friday blocked the Biden administration from approving new applications for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — but current DACA recipients will remain unaffected for now.

In a 77-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen found that DACA is unlawful and that the Department of Homeland Security can no longer approve new applicants into the program, which has granted work permits and protection from deportation to more than 600,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. He also ruled that DHS could continue to process DACA renewals for now as the issue continues to move through the courts.

The court order does not “require DHS or the Department of Justice to take any immigration, deportation, or criminal action against any DACA recipient, applicant, or any other individual that it would not otherwise take,” Hanen wrote in the ruling.

It is the latest blow to the program, which has been caught in legal limbo since former President Barack Obama introduced it in 2012.

Immigrant advocates, attorneys and DACA recipients had been bracing for Hanen to rule against DACA given the Trump administration’s handling of the case and the judge’s track record on immigration. They had been waiting on a ruling since a hearing took place in late December.

Advocates, for months, have said a ruling against DACA could force Congress to move more quickly on securing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. If DACA is ultimately overturned for current recipients, they will be stripped of their protection from deportation and work permits.

Democrats are planning to include immigration measures — such as a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, recipients of Temporary Protected Status and essential workers, like farmworkers — in the forthcoming $3.5 trillion spending bill. Still, it is unclear if the measures will survive the Senate’s budget rules that would allow it to be part of the final package.

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Sabrina Rodriguez & Josh Gertstein