Biden calls DACA ruling 'deeply disappointing,' urges Congress to pass citizenship path

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President Biden on Saturday called a federal court ruling that put a halt to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program “deeply disappointing” and again urged Congress to pass legislation that would grant illegal immigrants protected from deportation under the program a pathway to citizenship.

“Yesterday’s Federal court ruling is deeply disappointing,” Biden said in a statement. “While the court’s order does not now affect current DACA recipients, this decision nonetheless relegates hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to an uncertain future.”

Judge Andrew Hanen, a Texas judge, on Friday ordered the Biden administration to stop all applications for DACA,  ruling that the Obama-era program was illegal.

DACA was established under the Obama administration in 2012 and granted protection from deportation and work permits to illegal immigrants who came to the country as minors. Approximately 700,000 are estimated to have been granted protection under the program, and hundreds of thousands more are deemed eligible.

Hanen, in a split ruling, found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in creating the policy. He found that the policy was implemented unlawfully and ordered DHS to stop approving DACA applications — although he said it could continue to accept applications. The ruling does not affect the status of any current DACA recipients. 

The judge found that the agency’s interpretation of statutes was “overly broad” and those laws did not carry the authority for the federal government to institute the program.

“DACA would grant lawful presence and work authorization to over a million people for whom Congress had made no provision and has consistently refused to make such a provision,” Hanen wrote.

On Saturday, Biden said the Justice Department intends to appeal the ruling, and the Department of Homeland Security will issue a proposed rule concerning the program.

“I am disappointed by yesterday’s ruling and its impact on families across the country, but it will not derail our efforts to protect Dreamers,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “The Biden-Harris Administration—and this country—remain as committed as ever to ensuring that Dreamers are protected from the threat of deportation and are allowed to continue to contribute to this country that is their home.” 

Mayorkas confirmed the effort to issue a rule and said the DACA renewals would continue to be processed, before adding that “only the passage of legislation will give full protection and a path to citizenship to DACA recipients.”

The suit had been brought by a coalition of states led by Texas, who argued that the policy violated the APA and the Constitution. While the battle over the program has been going on for nine years, it is the first time a court has found the program to be illegal.

Republicans have repeatedly claimed that the program was illegal, and President Donald Trump sought to revoke the program.  That effort was shot down by the Supreme Court, which found it was done in a manner that was “arbitrary and capricious,” while not ruling on the program itself.

Democrats and the Biden administration, as well as some Republicans, have supported pathways to citizenship for DACA recipients, whom activists and Democrats have termed “dreamers.” Many of those pushes expand the category to include not only DACA recipients, but those who are DACA-eligible. 

President Biden signed a memo after entering office to protect DACA, ordering DHS to take “all appropriate actions under the law” to preserve the program and calling on Congress to give a path to citizenship for recipients.

There have already been a number of efforts in Congress this year to give legal status to DACA recipients. Most recently, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said that the Democratic budget proposal includes a pathway for citizenship for a number of illegal immigrant groups – including DACA recipients. Democrats may be able to pass such a proposal without Republican support due to the reconciliation process.

Biden renewed those calls on Saturday, saying that “only Congress can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve.”

“I have repeatedly called on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, and I now renew that call with the greatest urgency,” he said, referring to legislation that would give a citizenship path to DACA recipients. “It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.”

He was joined in those calls by both Mayorkas and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“To all the Dreamers out there experiencing fear and uncertainty, know that @POTUS and I believe strongly that your home is America. You deserve a permanent solution,” she tweeted Saturday. “Through Reconciliation or other means, the time is now for Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship.”

Former President Barack Obama also joined those calls, saying it is “long past time for Congress to act and give them the protection and certainty they deserve.”

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