HOUSTON – A federal judge did not issue a decision immediately after a hearing on Tuesday on the fate of a US program that protects people who were brought into the country illegally as children.
During a nearly three-and-a-half-hour hearing, Texas and eight other states asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides limited protection to some 650,000 people . The program was approved by former President Barack Obama in 2012.
The states, represented by the Texas attorney general’s office, argued that the program violates the constitution by circumventing Congressional authority over immigration laws. States also argued that it illegally grants work permit benefits to beneficiaries and increased state costs, including $ 250 million a year for social services to program beneficiaries in Texas.
“President Obama overstepped his authority when his government issued the DACA memorandum in 2012,” said Hanen Todd Disher, a lawyer in the Texas attorney general’s office.
A group of recipients represented by the Mexican Legal and Educational Defense Fund and the New Jersey attorney general asked Hanen to reject the process. They argued that Obama had the authority to institute the program.
Nina Perales, a lawyer for the Mexican-American Legal and Educational Defense Fund, told Hanen that states have no legitimacy to sue because they were not harmed by the DACA program, as benefits like work permits for beneficiaries were not granted by the program, but authorized under other programs and regulations that were previously created.
The state box “is like a donut. The center is empty,” said Perales.
Hanen is expected to rule at a later date.
The U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled that President Donald Trump’s attempt to end the program in 2017 was illegal. In December, a New York judge ordered the Trump administration to restore the program.
But the Houston case directly targets the original terms under which the DACA program was created.
Prosecuting alongside Texas are Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia – states where everyone has Republican governors or state attorney generals.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to protect the program, but a decision against the program may limit his ability to keep it or something similar in place.
“DACA must be replaced by a legislative approach,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican Legal and Educational Defense Fund.
But Congress has not taken any action related to the program in recent years.
Although the DACA program is often described as a program for young migrants, many recipients have lived in the United States for a decade or more after being brought into the country without permission or on longer visas.
The hearing on efforts to end the program came a day after Biden’s top advisers said they would not immediately reverse asylum restrictions on the Mexican border and other restrictive policies of the Trump administration, backing down some of the campaign promises of Biden for the “Day One” changes.
Susan E. Rice, new internal policy advisor, and Jake Sullivan, chosen by Biden as national security adviser, provided written statements in an exclusive interview with the Spanish news agency EFE saying they “will need time” to undo the policies immigration policy.
Rice said Biden will use executive authority to implement his immigration agenda, but his statements asking for patience seemed to reflect the new government’s concerns that loosening Trump’s oversight system too quickly could trigger a new wave of migration across the border.
“Migrants and asylum seekers should absolutely not believe those in the region who sell the idea that the border will suddenly be wide open to sue everyone on the first day. It won’t be, ”said Rice, according to a translation of the interview transcript.
Immigrant advocacy groups and others who oppose Trump’s policies have been pressing Biden to adopt widespread changes in a U.S. law enforcement model designed to prevent illegal migration through a system of detention and deportation.
“Our priority is to reopen asylum processing at the border according to the ability to do so safely and to protect public health, especially in the context of covid-19,” said Rice. “This effort will start immediately, but it will take months to develop the capacity that we will need to fully reopen.”
Likewise, Sullivan told EFE that the government would not immediately terminate the “Migration Protection Protocols” that Biden had promised to end on his first day in office. Under Trump’s measures, asylum seekers are sent back to Mexico to wait outside the United States – some in squalid tent camps – while their claims are processed in American courts.
The migration protection protocols “were a disaster from the start and led to a humanitarian crisis in northern Mexico,” said Sullivan. “But putting the new policy into practice will take time.”
Information for this article was contributed by Juan A. Lozano and Nomaan Merchant of The Associated Press; and by Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti of The Washington Post.