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Texas asks federal appeals court to end the Obama-era DACA program

The Biden administration on Monday renewed efforts to shield hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the United States as young children from deportation, the latest maneuver in a long-running drama over the policy's legality. 
Ralph Barrera / Austin American-Statesman Via AP File
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The Biden administration on Monday renewed efforts to shield hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the United States as young children from deportation, the latest maneuver in a long-running drama over the policy's legality.

The state of Texas was back in court Wednesday as part of its years-long effort to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has shielded tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the state from possible deportation."

The hearing at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans came after Texas-based federal district Judge Andrew Hanen ruled last year that the DACA program was unlawful because former President Obama exceeded his authority by implementing the program.

As of December 2021, there were about 101,350 active DACA recipients in Texas, the second-highest number behind California’s 174,700, according to federal statistics. Texas filed its lawsuit in 2018.

Judge Hanen’s decision halted the Biden administration’s ability to issue new DACA permits but still allowed current holders to apply for two-year renewals.

Aside from the alleged illegality of DACA, Texas also argues that it and other states have been harmed by having to spend money on social and health services for undocumented immigrants. Attorneys with the Mexican American Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, represent several DACA recipients in the case and argued Wednesday before the three-judge panel that Texas and the six other GOP-led states suing lack standing.

Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for MALDEF, argued that Texas hasn’t proven its injury and therefore should not have been able to sue.

“The reason we say that is that Texas has never been able to identify a harm that resulted from DACA recipients in Texas,” she said during a press briefing after Wednesday’s arguments. “Texas was not able to point to a single dollar of education or social services spending that went to a DACA recipient.”

Proponents of DACA argue the program actually grows the U.S. economy because it allows recipients to work and pay taxes. To qualify for DACA, an applicant must be enrolled in school, have graduated or earned a GED, and not committed a felony or serious misdemeanor.

Thousands of DACA recipients also played keys roles in providing essential services during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 said Maria Praeli, a DACA recipient and the government relations manager for FWD.us, an immigrant advocacy organization.

“There are hundreds of thousands of folks who are among the essential workers that have been risking their lives throughout the pandemic,” Praeli told KERA on Wednesday. “Many have family members who are citizens, and many have U.S. citizen children … We’re teachers, we’re doctors we are your friends.”

It’s unclear when the three-judge panel will issue its decision, but the litigation could still continue once it does. Either side could request a hearing before the entire Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the case could be sent back to Hanen and the lower court, or it could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even if the appeals court sides with Texas and the other states, MALDEF believes a complete end to the program seems unlikely.

“Any attempt to end DACA abruptly would be disruptive to DACA recipients as well as to their families, employers and communities,” MALDEF states on its website. “The U.S. Supreme Court in 2020 recognized that DACA recipients have strong reliance interests in DACA and therefore it is unlikely that a court will order DACA to end suddenly.”

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom