Court declares DACA program illegal, but leaves policy intact for nearly 600,000 immigrant “Dreamers”

A federal appeals court on Wednesday said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy violates US immigration law, dealing a blow to an Obama-era program that provides deportation protection and work permits to nearly 600,000 immigrant “dreamers” who lack legal status.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Obama administration did not have the legal authority to create DACA in 2012, upholding a judgment in July 2021 from a federal judge in Texas that blocked the Biden administration from enrolling new immigrants in the decade-old program.

Despite its conclusion, the appeals court did not order the Biden administration to completely shut down DACA or stop processing renewal applications, opting instead to uphold an order from U.S. Judge Andrew Hanen that left the policy intact for current recipients. However, the government will continue to be prohibited from approving first-time DACA applications.

The Justice Department, which represents the federal government in the lawsuits, did not immediately say whether it would ask the Supreme Court to halt Wednesday’s ruling. The Biden administration is likely to file a formal appeal, paving the way for the conservative-leaning Supreme Court to issue a final ruling on DACA’s legality next year.

Per As of June 30, 594,120 immigrants brought to the United States as children were enrolled in DACA, half of whom live in California, Texas and Illinois, according to data released by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that administers the program.

Wednesday’s court decision stems from a lawsuit filed in 2018 by Texas and other Republican-controlled states that have argued that DACA was an overreach of the federal government’s immigration powers.

While DACA allows recipients to live and work in the United States legally without fear of deportation, it does not qualify them for permanent legal status or citizenship. Those enrolled in DACA had to prove they arrived in the U.S. at age 16 and before June 2007, studied at a U.S. school or served in the military, and lacked any serious criminal records.

The court decision could create a renewed sense of urgency in Congress to pass legislation that puts the program’s recipients on a path to citizenship, a proposal with robust bipartisan support among lawmakers and the American public.

For more than two decades, however, proposals to legalize Dreamers have died in Congress amid an intense partisan dispute over other immigration issues. In the current Congress, Democrats would likely have to accept border security measures to secure the necessary number of Republican votes to pass such a legalization bill.

This is a news story that will be updated.

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