Legal Fight Over DACA Amps Up Pressure on Reluctant Congress

As another court ruling unfolds in Texas, clamor for legislative solution only grows

Dreamers protest outside of the Capitol calling for passage of the Dream Act as Congress works to find a way to end the government shutdown on Sunday evening, Jan. 21, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congress could face more pressure to protect “Dreamers” because of court decisions about the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows people who were brought to the United States as undocumented children to live and work here temporarily.

Still, even with the additional pressure from the court rulings, lawmakers are unlikely to pass any legislation in the months preceding the November midterm elections.

Three federal judges have already ruled against President Donald Trump’s efforts to end the Obama-era program, known as DACA, which protects around 700,000 undocumented “Dreamers” from deportation. The latest ruling, handed down on Aug. 3, ordered the administration to resume accepting new DACA applications; the previous rulings only held that it must renew benefits for current enrollees.


But a fourth judge could rule in Trump’s favor as early as Wednesday, when Texas and six other states will seek a preliminary injunction that would stop the administration from keeping DACA operational. The Justice Department will likely decline to defend the program, which it considers unlawful, and the judge in the case, Andrew Hanen, previously ruled in Texas’ favor against another Obama immigration program designed to protect the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens.

If Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, orders the government to stop implementing DACA, then the administration will find itself caught between opposing rulings. The issue would probably end up at the Supreme Court, though it’s unclear whether the justices could settle it prior to Election Day.

In that case, Democrats and immigrant advocates are likely to ramp up pressure on Republican lawmakers to find a legislative solution to protecting the Dreamers. Outside political groups are already criticizing vulnerable House Republicans such as Reps. Jeff Denham of California and Carlos Curbelo of Florida for not providing Dreamers in their districts a path to legal status.

“As Trump tries everything he can to kill protections and feed more immigrants to his deportation force, Congress must vote to defund the deportation agencies and pass legislation to protect immigrants in a way that is permanent and clean from enforcement,” Greisa Martinez, deputy executive director of the pro-immigrant group United We Dream, told reporters on a conference call Monday.

Still, there’s almost no chance of Congress even considering — let alone passing — a bill to protect Dreamers before the end of the year. The Senate fell short by six votes of doing so in February before Trump torched a bipartisan compromise under pressure from immigration hardliners. In June, the House rejected two Republican bills that would have protected Dreamers in exchange for approving a laundry list of Trump’s immigration enforcement priorities. 

Neither chamber is planning another attempt following the August recess.

Watch: Why Are the Dreamers Called the Dreamers?

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.