Immigration

After Judge’s Ruling on DACA, Many Urge Congress To Act On A Permanent Solution

Immigrant advocates say DACA was only a Band-Aid. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen’s recent order to halt new DACA applications puts the pressure on Congress to act.

Supporters of DACA protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in November 2019.

It was near the end of the workday when U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Houston issued his decision on the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Edna Yang, an immigrant advocate in Austin, was working from home.

Hanen ruled DACA had been created illegally and ordered a halt on new applications. Soon after, Yang’s phone started blowing up. Texts, phone calls and emails, all from other advocates, her staff and clients.

"I think it was best put by one of the clients who contacted me and said, ‘I feel like I've been punched in the gut," she said. "‘You know? I was expecting to get this great benefit and to be able to make some plans for my life and now everything’s on hold again, with all of this uncertainty.'"

Yang is co-executive director of American Gateways, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services and advocates for low-income immigrants in Central Texas.

Many of her group's clients have ridden a roller coaster of emotions for the past several years. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration, which sought to end DACA. That decision gave some people hope.

But this recent ruling leaves many young people's future up in the air. Hanen's decision doesn't affect current DACA recipients — only those who are eligible but haven't yet applied for DACA status.

Jeremy McKinney with the American Immigration Lawyers Association said these numerous legal battles over DACA are precisely why Congress needs to act on a permanent solution.

"I would love it if somehow the public discourse could switch from DACA, back to the Dream Act,” he said. “Because that’s really where the conversation needs to be."

McKinney said he and others will continue to defend DACA and recipients of the program.

"At the end of the day, it's temporary. It's a Band-Aid,” he added. “We need a permanent fix."

In his ruling, Judge Hanen said the Obama administration didn't have congressional authority to create DACA when it did so by executive action in 2012. Hanen said the Obama administration didn't go through the formal rulemaking process known as the Administrative Procedure Act, which federal agencies must go through to propose and issue new regulations.

McKinney said he remembers the reaction from many of his colleagues when DACA was first implemented.

"A lot of individuals in our membership within the American Immigration Lawyers Association at the time were perplexed that the Obama administration did not go through the APA rulemaking process to avoid litigation," he said. "Not because it necessarily was the legally required thing to do, but just to do it as a proactive step to basically avoid the legal argument that has resulted in this decision."

DACA & Texas

Texas and eight other states brought this most recent lawsuit against DACA. They argued it costs states money to educate DACA recipients, provide medical services and assistance, or issue a driver's license.

Yang said the research she's seen actually shows the opposite effect.

"All of the states who joined in this lawsuit have actually benefited," she said. "They’ve benefited economically from dreamers and their families, from DACA, from individuals paying higher taxes, from individuals being employed in their states, from bringing business to the states."

Yang said some employers are frustrated by the decision.

"I do know that employers anecdotally have said, ‘You know what? I was planning on hiring these other folks and now I can’t. Because, I was relying on them being able to get their work permit via DACA.'"

According to the New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy group, DACA recipients and DACA-eligible immigrant workers are vital to the economy.

In Texas, nearly 62,000 DACA-eligible immigrants are essential healthcare workers. And 480,000 are essential non-healthcare workers in industries like restaurants, construction and supermarkets.

McKinney said what may happen next is complicated but boils down to three things.

"The courts can fix this situation, the executive branch through the APA process can fix this situation, but fundamentally, the permanent solution lies in Congress’s hands," he said.

In March, the House passed the so-called Dream and Promise Act with bipartisan support. But it remains to be seen what will happen in the Senate and whether a permanent fix will ever happen.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

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