A notoriously anti-immigrant judge in Texas has yet again ruled against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, rejecting a 2022 rule from the Biden administration that intended to preserve and fortify the program. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, a jurist handpicked to hear this case by impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a slate of GOP states, is allowing renewals to continue for now. First-time applications remain blocked, as has been the case since Hanen’s initial ruling more than two years ago.
Wednesday’s ruling avoided the absolutely worst-case scenario: the immediate termination of a hugely popular and successful program that has for more than a decade allowed hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to work legally, pursue higher education goals, and live free from the threat of deportation.
But the sobering reality is that DACA is hanging on by a thread. The next step in this fight is an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, one of the most conservative courts in the nation and a major player in the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline that extends all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s a cruel and agonizing prospect for DACA recipients and families that have already spent years living from court decision to court decision.
“I am devastated by this decision that once again triggers my fear of having my family torn apart,” said Zuleima Dominguez, a DACA recipient and lead organizer at Make the Road New York. “As a current DACA recipient with loved ones who have been waiting to apply for this program, I know that this ruling puts the livelihoods of hundreds of immigrant youth across the country under attack. We have lived with immense uncertainty and as pawns in political games for years. Once again, today, an extremist judge has done the bidding of extreme MAGA politicians to try to rob us of our future.”
“The newest ruling by Judge Hanen is upsetting and disappointing,” said Judith Briseño, a DACA-eligible individual and member of United We Dream Texas. Briseño was one of the tens of thousands of first-time applicants blocked from applying following Hanen’s initial decision. “The past years have been a rollercoaster of court decisions that play with the potential outcome of my life. Although I applied for DACA for the first time in December 2020, my application was frozen by this same judge and same court in July 2021.”
“As a DACA recipient, it is infuriating to always be told I don’t belong, as this ruling does,” said Yuna Oh, Political Associate here at America’s Voice. She also has DACA recipients in her family who are similarly threatened by the continued Republican-pushed litigation against the program.
“DACA recipients are parents, homeowners, leaders and caregivers,” Oh continued. “We are part of the American identity, whether the GOP recognizes it or not. While being a DACA recipient opened doors in my life, without a permanent solution the opponents of DACA in the Republican Party continue to gamble with my life and the lives of 600,000 others. I am an American, and this is my home.”
“It’s angering to live life in this way, at the mercy of court decisions which are based on politics,” said Areli Hernandez, a DACA recipient and Director of External Affairs at CHIRLA. “My family is here, my heart is here, my home is here, and I am here to stay.” Kathia Garcia, another DACA recipient and Youth Programs Manager at CHIRLA, said the ruling continued for her “the same roller coaster of emotions.” DACA has been under serious legal threat since indicted former President Donald Trump first rescinded the policy in 2017.
“Our immigrant families, workers, the 11 million undocumented, and more than 500,000 DACA recipients can no longer continue to live in a state of anxiety and limbo,” Garcia continued. “We are human and have rooted lives, children, homes in this country to which we contribute day in and day out.”
The message from affected individuals and allies in reaction to Hanen’s ruling was uniform: only Washington, D.C. can end this uncertainty once and for all. But in Congress, Republicans have blocked legislation to make Dreamers full citizens, including historic legislation that passed the Senate in 2013, and the House as recently as 2021. Numerous voices said that as the fight for permanent relief continues, the Biden administration must also use any power under existing law to let immigrants work legally and live safely from deportation.
“Now more than ever, Congress must act to pass permanent protections and the administration should employ applicable tools to protect DACA recipients,” Justice Action Center Skadden Fellow Laura Flores said, further criticizing court fights that have blocked eligible young immigrants from important relief. “They deserve to live and work with dignity and security, none of which are afforded to them when their future is dictated by the whims of courts.”
“While expected, today’s court ruling is devastating,” said Kica Matos, president of the National Immigration Law Center. “It impacts hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth and their loved ones, who have already endured years of uncertainty stemming from politicized attacks on DACA. Congress has failed to pass a permanent legislative solution, and it is urgent that they act now. We cannot allow court rulings to continue to upend the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth whose home is here. We demand that Congress pass a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and immigrant youth.”
The ruling is “particularly disturbing for LGBTQ and HIV-positive Dreamers,” said Aaron C. Morris, Executive Director of Immigration Equality. “Without permanent protections, many Dreamers may be deported to countries where they will face human rights violations such as forced conversion therapy, sexual assault, and brutal violence. Some Dreamers also risk returning to countries where being LGBTQ is punishable by incarceration or even the death penalty.”
Hanen’s decision “is bad for communities, bad for the economy, and centers cruelty rather than dignity and common sense,” said Guerline Jozef, Executive Director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. “For most DACA recipients, this is the only home they know, and we will continue to advocate alongside Dreamers who have fearlessly led this advocacy for years. Congress and the Biden administration must act immediately to create an enduring solution for our Dreamers.”
Hanen’s “misguided” ruling “is outrageous and utterly wrong across the board,” said New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez. “This decision wrongly takes aim at hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who have done nothing but play by the rules, contribute to the communities around them, and enrich America in countless ways.”
“For now this does not affect the ability of current DACA recipients to renew their status,” Senator Menendez continued. “However, I urge the Biden administration to pursue all administrative actions to protect Dreamers, including by creating a new parole option, and to spare no resources in appealing this decision. We must unapologetically stand for defending our Dreamers, who embody the American Dream itself, and Congress must use this moment as a clarion call to finally deliver a pathway to citizenship for them and the broader undocumented community.”
“This court ruling is deeply disappointing,” said Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia. “The #TX Court’s decision shows us how critical it is that Congress needs to act now and pass my bill, the American Dream and Promise Act, to give a path to citizenship for these hardworking Americans.”
“The impacts of ending DACA would be devastating for Arizona,” said Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego. “These are kids who were brought here, grew up here, and know America as their home — and they would be deported to countries they’ve never really known. They’re just as American as my kids. Ending DACA would be a sin that our country will regret for years to come.”
It’s a deeply personal ruling for Illinois Rep. Delia Ramirez, who is married to a DACA recipient. She called the ruling “heartbreaking and unacceptable. My husband came to this nation at a young age. While not perfect, this program allowed him to build a life, a home. This decision takes that opportunity away from many young immigrants living in our communities and contributing to our economy. Our nation should be a place where young people have the security to dream of and realize a future full of opportunity.”
Uprooting these immigrants would not only harm them and their families, but our nation as well. DACA recipient Jesús Escamilla, for example, feeds the nation as a farmworker. “DACA has not only benefited us DACA recipients but this country too,” he said. “It’s incredibly difficult to understand that with today’s decision, the program gets a step closer to its potential end.”
“But this fight is far from over,” Rep. Ramirez continued. “Now, more than ever, the members of Congress have to do the job they were elected to do, and that includes comprehensive immigration reform.”
“Once again, thousands of Dreamers, including our undocumented youth who were stuck on the DACA program, remain in legal limbo,” said Reyna Montoya, DACA recipient and Aliento founder. “This means that DACA recipients like me remain uncertain, knowing that the Supreme Court could soon end the DACA program. Close to 100,000 undocumented youth remain without status. The reality is that Congress and the Biden administration can end this uncertainty, anxiety, and stress by passing legislation to protect Dreamers and provide a permanent solution.”
We simply cannot forget that this is ultimately about real people and their lives. “Getting DACA could mean a world of change for me and my family,” Briseño said. “I’m currently a student at Texas A&M studying to be a doctor in the future. I need Congress to stop the endless back and forth court battles and make sure I can live with the fullness of opportunities to pursue my future.”