Policy

DACA Ruling Could Open Door for More ‘Dreamers’

Administration failed to describe unlawfulness of program, judge says

Heather Pina-Ledezma, 6, attends a news conference in the Capitol with Democratic senators and families impacted by President Obama's executive action on undocumented immigrants and to call on Republicans to pass immigration legislation, December 10, 2014. Heather's mother Madai is from Mexico but Heather was born in Annapolis. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The number of “Dreamers” protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could nearly triple if the Homeland Security Department cannot convince a federal judge that President Donald Trump had a good reason to end it.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates for the District of Columbia ruled Tuesday night that Trump’s decision to end the program, known as DACA, was “unlawful” and “arbitrary and capricious because the Department failed adequately to explain its conclusion that the program was unlawful.”

Bates suspended his ruling for 90 days to give DHS another chance to state its case. If it cannot, Bates said, the administration must begin accepting new applications. Two other federal judges have blocked Trump from ending the six-year-old program, but neither required the government to enroll new Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

“Each day that the agency delays is a day that aliens who might otherwise be eligible for initial grants of DACA benefits are exposed to removal because of an unlawful agency action,” Bates wrote in his opinion.

The program currently protects about 694,000 Dreamers from deportation, all of whom are able to renew their current benefits under the two previous court rulings. If Bates’ ruling stands, it would open the program to an additional 1.2 million Dreamers, according to a 2017 analysis by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

The institute estimates the total DACA-eligible population to be about 1.9 million, which includes more than 625,000 Dreamers who could gain eligibility by meeting the program’s age and education requirements. Earlier this year, Trump and lawmakers came close to a compromise that would have offered citizenship to roughly 1.8 million Dreamers, but the deal fell apart.

DHS is reviewing the court order, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Devin O’Malley, a Justice Department spokesman, said the administration acted lawfully last March when it rescinded an Obama administration memo authorizing DACA. O’Malley said in a statement to the media that DOJ “will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation.”

For now, the court rulings are the only thing keeping Dreamers enrolled in DACA from losing their work permits and deportation protections. The prospects of Congress acting prior to the midterm elections in November are slim, though some advocates seized on Tuesday’s ruling to pressure Republican leaders to allow votes on various bills that would grant Dreamers legal status.

“No one deserves to live their life court case to court case, injunction to injunction or in two-year increments,” said Todd Schulte, president of the pro-immigration group FWD.us. “Congress can and should solve all of this at any time — and truly this could happen tomorrow — by taking just one hour to allow a vote on a series of immigration bills.”

Schulte seemed to be referring to a process in the House known as “queen of the hill,” which would set up votes on four different proposals to protect Dreamers. At least 50 Republicans have signed onto the plan, according to Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who is spearheading the effort, even though Speaker Paul D. Ryan has already rejected the idea.

The Senate considered three Dreamer proposals in February, but none passed.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report. 

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