Hundreds of thousands of children of undocumented immigrants facing deportation won a court order temporarily blocking the Trump administration’s decision to end the so-called Dreamer program in March.
A federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday rejected the government’s argument that the courts can’t review whether the president improperly decided to terminate the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that was started by former President Barack Obama.
The ruling capped a surreal day in which President Donald Trump held a 55-minute discussion on immigration with a bipartisan group of lawmakers that he opened to the media. While much of the discussion focused on Dreamers and a short-term policy fix, the president said he was willing to negotiate a deal that might eventually provide millions of undocumented immigrants with an avenue to citizenship, an apparent reversal of his harsh anti-immigration policies during his first year in office.
U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup said the approximately 680,000 affected immigrants would suffer too much if he didn’t put the phase-out of the program on hold.
“The rescission will result in hundreds of thousands of individuals losing their work authorizations and deferred action status,” he wrote. “This would tear authorized workers from our nation’s economy and would prejudice their being able to support themselves and their families, not to mention paying taxes to support our nation. Too, authorized workers will lose the benefit of their employer-provided healthcare plans and thus place a greater burden on emergency healthcare services.”
The Justice Department said it will continue in the legal fight to defend its position that DACA was “an unlawful circumvention of Congress” and that Trump’s Department of Homeland Security acted within its authority to wind down the program.
“Promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens,” department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in an email.
Alsup’s ruling applies to a collection of lawsuits brought by California, the University of California, local governments in Silicon Valley, a labor union and various individuals. The technology industry has been especially vocal condemning Trump’s decision.
The judge said that under his nationwide injunction, the government need not process new DACA applications and isn’t prohibited from deporting Dreamers who are found to pose a national security or public safety threat. He also declined to block restrictions on DACA immigrants traveling abroad, saying he wasn’t convinced that is a great hardship.
The administration will almost certainly appeal. The Justice Department already fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to win a reprieve from an earlier order by the judge to disclose records explaining why it chose to end the program.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called Tuesday’s ruling “a huge step in the right direction.”
“America is and has been home to Dreamers who courageously came forward, applied for DACA and did everything the federal government asked of them,” he said in a statement.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions described DACA as unconstitutional when he announced on Sept. 5 that the administration would rescind it and gave affected immigrants another month to reapply for their permits. The program was set to formally end on March 5.
But Alsup threw cold water on the Trump administration’s contention that DACA was an unlawful exercise of authority by Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit in her current capacity as president of the University of California. He analyzed the decision-making process behind the creation of DACA and found each step to be grounded in previous decisions by Congress and the Supreme Court.
“If each step is within the authority of the agency, then how can combining them in one program be outside its authority, so long as the agency vets each applicant and exercises its discretion on a case-by-case basis?” Alsup wrote.
The judge also noted the irony that “the ultimate authority over the agency, the Chief Executive, publicly favors the very program the agency has ended.”
Alsup quoted directly from a Trump tweet: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really! . . . .”
The case is Regents of University of California v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 17-cv-05211, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).