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Texas begins its battle against DACA program again, claiming it causes injury to the state

Protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Houston to oppose the state of Texas' challenge of DACA. Taken on June 1, 2023.
Lucio Vasquez
Houston Public Media
Protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Houston to oppose the state of Texas' challenge of DACA. Taken on June 1, 2023.

The State of Texas began its latest argument to dismantle legal protections for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

The program, which allows qualified applicants who were brought into the U.S. before they were 16 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation, currently protects more than 95,000 people in Texas — the second highest number of people in the country behind California, which is home to 165,000 people who are protected by the program. 

At Thursday’s hearing, the state argued that the Biden administration's Final Rule, which bolsters protections for current DACA recipients, is causing financial injury to Texas. It alleged that recipients benefit from using state-funded resources like public education and Medicaid, which places a strain on state funds.

However, defense attorneys, including representatives from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), argued that the state has no actual proof of how much money it’s spending specifically on DACA recipients and that the state does not account for the economic gain it receives from DACA recipients. 

The state also argued that there was no reason to overturn the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling. It also asserted that the Final Rule is inseverable and should, therefore, be completely overturned. The state suggested a four-year grace period for current DACA recipients as they sort their next steps, whether deportation or citizenship.  

That state also alleged that DACA recipients are affecting the number of jobs available to natural-born citizens, arguing that it would be cheaper to pay DACA recipients than natural-born citizens. Defense attorneys argued there was no proof of an employer ever choosing to hire a DACA recipient over a natural-born citizen for this reason.

The defense also argued that if Judge Andrew Hanen overturns the program, he should strike it down partially and only repeal the work permit that's granted by the program, allowing those already in the U.S. to avoid deportation. The defense added that Hanen could overturn the program in Texas specifically, since Texas is the state that filed the lawsuit.

According to data from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are more than 580,000 DACA recipients throughout the country.

Susana Lujano, who was outside of the federal courthouse on Thursday, is one of them. Lujano said many recipients are well into adulthood. 

“A lot of the rhetoric is that we’re young migrants and at this point a lot of us are in our 30s, our mid 30s, even,” Lujano said.

She added that she and her husband recently purchased a home and consider the U.S. their home country.

“We’re here because we’re trying to make sure that it’s known how many of us are affected by this one judge’s decision. And all of these attorneys who are trying to fight this case against DACA, we want them to know our faces and who we are," she said.

Lujano, 30, admitted that she does not have high hopes for DACA’s future.

“I wish that I could say that I have a positive outlook on it; I don’t,” she said. “My husband and I have been talking about what it would look like if we lose our work permits. But obviously we’re hoping that at least it would be continued.” 

Lujano said she’s considered this country her home for the last 30 years and doesn’t want to live in fear of being “pulled away from our homes and our families, and to be able to work and provide for ourselves.” 

If they were to lose DACA, Lujano said she believes they could figure out how to work — as long as they don’t get a deportation notice.

“If it were to come down to deportation notices, we would pick up our things and leave on our own,” she said. “We’re not going to wait around for someone to kick us out. We’d leave with our heads held high and all of our dignity intact. Because we’re hardworking people and we want to make an honest living.” 

Lujano was out there with her 1-year-old son. She said she wants to ensure that he never goes through the things she and her husband struggled with as children: scarcity of resources, lack of stability and housing.

Toward the end of Thursday's hearing, Hanen said he would be making a ruling “as soon as possible.” Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for MALDEF, said she expected the case to go back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and possibly up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We feel confident that Judge Hanen is going to consider the arguments of all sides," Perales said. "We believe that the law favors our position and favors upholding DACA."

As of now, there's no estimated timeline as to when Hanen's decision will be made.

Robert Salinas contributed to this report.
Copyright 2023 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.

Rebecca Noel
Lucio is a reporter and photojournalist currently studying media production at the University of Houston. He has previously worked as a news photographer for Houston Public Media, the NPR affiliate in Houston, Texas. His photography has appeared throughout several Texas-based NPR affiliates.
Ariel Worthy