DACA Texas court ruling expected soon, but future of young undocumented far from clear
By ROXANA KOPETMAN | firstname.lastname@example.org | Orange County Register
PUBLISHED: August 15, 2018 at 7:13 pm | UPDATED: August 16, 2018 at 1:29 pm
Image: Immigration activist Omar Martinez attends a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 18, 2016.
(File photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
There was no set deadline, but the perception of one seemed real enough.
It was a Saturday in early August and Jose Lopez’s downtown Los Angeles apartment looked like a command center of sorts. With a printer set up on the center of the kitchen table, a dozen young immigrants sat with computers in the kitchen and living room, typing with quiet intensity.
Their goal: To get their DACA renewal applications into the government, via Fed Ex, that night. They wanted to file the paperwork before a district court judge ruled on a lawsuit that challenges Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival — the program created by president Barack Obama that grants young immigrants a work visa and temporary deferral from deportation.
“It was as quiet as it could be,” Lopez said of the DACA application-a-thon. “Everybody was typing, unless someone had a question.
“You could feel the tension in the room.”
It turned out the deadline wasn’t real; the Texas judge held off on his ruling, which is expected any day now.
But the fear palpable in Lopez’s apartment that night remains. For DACA recipients — a world that includes about 89,000 people in Southern California — there is growing anxiety about a cluster of lawsuits moving through the courts that could determine the fate of the program and, with it, their futures.
Many are particularly concerned about the ruling expected as soon as this week from District Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas.
In 2015, Hanen blocked Obama’s plan to expand DACA and create a similar program for parents of American-born children, a program called DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. That case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which split 4-4, so the expanded protections never went into effect.
“The case that is triggering anxiety is the one in Texas,” said Dianey Murillo, an organizer with the Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Collective.
While many expect Hanen to rule against DACA, attorney Thomas Saenz argues that there are important differences between Obama’s expanded plan and the existing version of the DACA program. The program to protect parents, DAPA, was never implemented. DACA, on the other hand, has existed for six years and has been used by some 800,000 young immigrants nationally without causing irreparable injury to the states, said Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Counsel, or MALDEF.
Even if Hanen rules against DACA, the Texas judge “has no greater authority than any other district judge in the country,” Saenz said.
And so far, other courts have ruled favorably toward DACA.
If Hanen does rule against DACA, contravening the orders of other courts across the country, the federal government “would face a conundrum,” in Saenz’ view, because it “does not have the right to choose which injunction it likes best.”
Most observers believe the case will likely be settled before the U.S. Supreme Court, unless Congress comes up with a different plan for unauthorized youth, often known as “Dreamers.”
The Texas lawsuit is an outlier among the lawsuits, some of which have been consolidated or are moving in tandem through five federal courts: in California, New York, Maryland, Washington D.C. and Texas. Most seek to protect DACA, not dismantle it.
Lawsuits were filed after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Sept. 5 an end to the DACA program, which some argue is unconstitutional, an abusive overreach of executive powers by President Obama, and a financial burden on states.
The lawsuits include one collectively known as Regents of the University of California v. Department of Homeland Security. On Jan. 9, District Judge William Alsup ruled in favor of UC, issuing a preliminary injunction that allowed existing DACA holders to renew their status.
Other courts in New York and Washington D.C. also ruled in favor of DACA. Most recently, on Aug. 3, District Court Judge John Bates in D.C. called the cancellation of DACA “arbitrary and capricious” and he ordered full restoration of the program, allowing also for new applicants to file, but he delayed implementation for 20 days.
Attorney General Sessions earlier this month criticized decisions “in which courts have improperly used judicial power to steer, enjoin, modify, and direct executive policy.”
Meanwhile, a district judge in Maryland struck down a challenge to the program, although he opined: “This court does not like the outcome of this case, but is constrained by its constitutionally limited role.”
With Hanen’s ruling pending, as well as various appeals across the country, this is considered a critical time for the nearly 700,000 people who currently hold DACA and the hundreds of thousands of others who may qualify for the temporary protection.
“In the next few weeks and few months, we could see developments in these cases that significantly alter the landscape for DACA recipients,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
There are fewer than 700,000 people currently holding DACA status. That’s a drop from the approximate 800,000 original applicants.
About 40,000 DACA recipients dropped from the pool because they became permanent legal residents, according to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman. Others who didn’t renew may have missed a window to apply after the program was suspended or may not have been able to afford the $495 renewal fee.
“Many didn’t renew out of fear or because they didn’t have the funds,” said Sheridan Aguirre, a spokesman for the United We Dream group, which bills itself as the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country.
California has the most people protected by DACA; nearly 197,000 as of last January, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Most polls show that a majority of Americans support DACA. And for those who are accepted into the program, it’s a game changer. They can work, travel, drive, and basically live without the fear of being detained for deportation.
A new survey released Wednesday by the Immigration Policy at American Progress, a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization, describes the impact of the program on its recipients. Of 1,050 people interviewed, 54 percent moved to a job with better pay and nearly half got jobs with better working conditions as a result of their DACA protections, benefits that better fit their education and goals.
Lopez, the Dream Team LA organizer, said he would fit in that category.
“DACA has done a lot of things for me. I have a stable job. I have a new car. I built up credit and I’m looking to buy a house,” Lopez said. “Every time I renew, I’m asked about my assets and income on the application. And every year, it increases. And it’s all due to DACA.”
Immigrant advocates are urging DACA applicants to renew their applications now, regardless of when they expire.
Aguirre, of the United We Dream group, said he sent off for his own renewal in the last week, a year early. Murillo, from the Inland Empire group, also sent hers in early.
As did Lopez and his friends, who rushed to file their renewals on that recent Saturday, when sprawled across Lopez’s home “you could hear printers all day.”
“Everyone was doing their applications,” Lopez said, “without knowing what the future of DACA holds.”