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NILC Release: “Fearless Four” Dreamers Defend Themselves in Judge Hanen’s Court

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Below is a press release from the National Immigration Law Center. One of the “Fearless Four” is AV’s Digital Campaigns Manager

“Fearless Four” respond to judge’s demand for their personal data with amicus brief

LOS ANGELES — Four young immigrants whose private information was ordered disclosed by a federal judge in U.S. v. Texas filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case today, arguing that the judge’s order violates their constitutional right to privacy, runs contrary to precedent, and is unjustified.

The group, known as the Fearless Four, includes Juan Escalante of Florida, Angelica Villalobos of Oklahoma, and two others who filed anonymously. They are just a few in a group of about 50,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients who would be impacted by an outlandish order by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in the case challenging the Obama administration’s immigration executive actions.

“I applied to DACA in 2012 with the understanding that my private information would be kept confidential, and in good faith provided every detail about my life the federal government requested,” said Escalante, whose DACA renewal was approved in December 2014. “Judge Hanen’s order seeks to undermine my constitutional right to privacy and could potentially expose personal information to individuals who may wish to retaliate against my family and me. Private means private.”

In addition to constitutional rights violations, the brief points to relevant case law that requires the courts to exercise discretion and restraint when it comes to forced disclosure of an individual’s highly sensitive information, even in cases of alleged misconduct. Furthermore, the brief argues that even if Hanen’s order was not precluded by precedent, it is not justified since it punishes individuals who are not party to the case, not those who committed the perceived misconduct, and would therefore not deter future misconduct.

“There’s no question Judge Hanen exceeded his authority with this order,” said Justin Cox, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. “But most importantly, he has not given sufficient weight to the privacy concerns of tens of thousands of individuals who have no connection to this case. Courts are allowed to sanction attorneys for misconduct, but this order is not aimed at the attorneys Judge Hanen said misbehaved—it’s aimed at DACA recipients.”

Announced in 2012, DACA allows some young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to live and work in the country temporarily if they meet certain eligibility requirements. In November 2014, the Obama administration announced that new and renewing applicants could get DACA for three rather than two years, and that the Department of Homeland Security would modify eligibility requirements to expand the applicant pool. At the same time, the administration announced another initiative, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would similarly allow some undocumented parents of American children to live and work in the U.S. temporarily.

Texas and 25 other states sued the federal government to block the implementation of DAPA and the expansion of DACA shortly after they were announced. That case, now known as U.S. v. Texas, was first heard in Hanen’s court in Brownsville, Texas, and eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In February 2015, before DAPA and the expansion of DACA went into effect, Hanen issued a nationwide injunction that blocked both initiatives. However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had begun issuing three-year work permits to people whose DACA applications were approved as of November 24, 2014, in accordance with the policies laid out in the Dept. of Homeland Security memo accompanying the announcement.

In May 2016, Hanen issued an order in which he claimed the U.S. Department of Justice lawyers representing the federal government had misled him and the suing states by not disclosing that the government was issuing three-year work permits. As punishment, he demanded that the federal government turn over the names, locations, and other private identifying information of about 50,000 individuals who live in the 26 states involved in the lawsuit and who had received three-year work permits between November 2014 and March 2015. He also ordered all Justice Department lawyers who appear in court in any of the 26 states to attend a yearly ethics course for five years.

“It is shameful and sad that Judge Hanen would even try to abuse his power to violate my constitutional rights and the rights of 50,000 other DACAmented youth, with no real justification,” said Villalobos, a mother of four whose DACA renewal was approved in November 2014. “Our privacy should not be sacrificed for one judge’s political crusade against those in power.”

The Justice Department asked Hanen to stay his order while the U.S. Supreme Court was deliberating in U.S. v Texas. The National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Texas also filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Fearless Four. A writ of mandamus allows impacted individuals to initiate a new action in the court of appeals to seek redress for a lower court order.

“Common sense and the Constitution lead to one conclusion: nothing that has happened in this case could possibly justify the massive invasion of DACA recipients’ privacy that the order would cause,” said Omar Jadwat, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

On June 7, Hanen granted the Justice Department’s motion to stay his order, and he set a hearing to reconsider the sanctions for Aug. 22. Last week, he rescheduled that hearing for Aug. 31.

The amicus brief filed today is available at www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Villalobos-Amicus-Brief-2016-08-12.pdf.