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Paxton-led DACA Lawsuit Back in Court As Immigrant Youth and Allies Rally In Support of Program and Permanent Relief

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Indicted Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton may currently be suspended as the state’s top lawyer pending an impeachment trial in the state Senate, but his anti-immigrant litigation continues to threaten hundreds of thousands of young people currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Texas Judge Andrew Hanen is set to hold a hearing Thursday in Paxton’s ongoing lawsuit seeking to end the popular and successful program. The primary abuser of the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline, Paxton and a slate of GOP states sued to end the program back in 2018. Hanen, a well-known anti-immigrant zealot, complied with Paxton’s demand and blocked all new DACA applications in a July 2021 ruling, a decision that left tens of thousands of first-time applications in limbo. Current DACA recipients were allowed to continue renewing their relief. But even that is now at risk as well. 

Currently before Hanen is the new rule that the Biden administration finalized last year. That rule was intended to protect DACA by addressing concerns that opponents supposedly had about how the Obama administration implemented the policy. 

But even though the administration dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, Republicans have continued using conservative courts to end the program. That’s because it was never about procedure or policy, it was about anti-immigrant extremism. Last fall, they got another favorable ruling, when the right-wing Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Hanen and Paxton and immigration opponents. That appeals court sent the case back down to Hanen to decide on the Biden administration’s new rule.

Hanen could issue another ruling any time after June 1. No one knows, except for Hanen. Hanen being Hanen, he could already have his decision written. It’s why Paxton went to him in the first place.

In continued limbo are roughly 600,000 young immigrants who’ve thrived, contributed, and lived with greater peace of mind since the policy’s implementation a decade ago. Paxton and the Republican states had claimed the program “placed an undue burden” financially on them. That’s rich: one factor that contributed to Paxton’s bipartisan impeachment last week was that he wants Texas taxpayers to be on the hook for a $3.3 million settlement stemming from his own corrupt actions.

That fact is that DACA recipient households pay nearly $9 billion in state, local and federal taxes every year. In Texas alone, DACA recipients pay more than $400 million in taxes annually. More than 100,000 DACA recipients call the state home. Not to mention that DACA recipients pay into the program itself, through their $495 application fees. DACA has shown how bringing immigrant youth into our economy helps their households, and ours. 

José Luis Zavala, a Dreamer who has a PhD in Urban Education from Texas A&M University, called the 2021 ruling against DACA “frustrating” and “not a logical thing.”

 “When we look at the Dreamers, when we look at our communities, we see that they’re working communities, they’re communities that want to work hard and move forward,” he said at the time. “So it doesn’t make sense. We are talking about a determined population, a persevering population, which really needs this opportunity.” 

Andrea Anaya, a United We Dream (UWD) member, was among the young immigrants whose first-time applications were blocked following the 2021 ruling. 

“I applied for DACA for the first-time in February but have yet to hear back from USCIS about the status of my application,” she said at the time. “Today’s ruling means I continue to be exposed to the threat of deportation and don’t know if my DACA application will ever be approved.” In a disheartening decision, a court in New York would go on to deny the at least 80,000 first-time applications that had been pending at the time of Hanen’s decision. 

It brings to mind when DACA was at the Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Roberts expressed disbelief that ending DACA would lead to additional deportations. Maybe he should ask Anaya how she feels about that and ask Paxton what he’d do to Dreamers.

Delegations from NAKASEC, Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC), Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Community Change, FIEL, Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), Make the Road New York and Nevada, Texas Organizing Project (TOP), and Workers Defense Project are rallying outside Hanen’s courtroom on Thursday in support of DACA and to continue pressing the need for permanent legislative relief. Despite Republicans’ relentless nativism, the vast majority of Americans support legal status and citizenship for young immigrants and the undocumented community at large.

Woojung Diana Park, a DACA recipient and MinKwon Center organizer, said young immigrants and allies are at the courthouse “representing the 600,000 people who currently benefit from the DACA program, the hundreds of thousands of others who could benefit if the program were re-opened to new applicants, and most importantly, ALL 11 million undocumented immigrants who want to live with dignity in the U.S.”

Mario Carrillo, Campaigns Director for America’s Voice added, “we’ve known all along that Ken Paxton’s ultimate goal is to strip young immigrants of any deportation protections and leave families like mine vulnerable to being separated and hundreds of young people vulnerable to deportation. But we won’t be deterred. DACA-recipients like my wife have come too far and worked too hard to allow any elected officials, especially indicted ones, to take her back into the shadows. With the future of DACA uncertain, it’s time for Congress to finally step up.”