DACA, created in 2012, was intended to provide temporary reprieve to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, a group often described as “Dreamers.” Recipients, many of whom are now adults, also receive certain work authorizations.
In July, Hanen, of the Southern District of Texas, ruled that DACA violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates what procedures agencies must go through to implement certain policies. He blocked the government from approving new applications for the program, but his order allowed the program to continue for current enrollees while the case is litigated. Since the ruling, a proposed DACA regulation has been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget.
As of March 31, there were 616,030 DACA recipients, the majority of whom are from Mexico. Hanen stayed his order for current DACA recipients. As long as that stay is in effect, those recipients can renew, a process that happens every two years.
But the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors have created a severe backlog of applications and under Hanen’s ruling, those applications from those not currently on DACA cannot be approved. The backlog of new applications was, as of March 31, more than 55,000.
The case has put additional pressure on Congress, where Democrats are trying to include a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants in a budget reconciliation bill. That population includes immigrants who were brought to the US as children, those with Temporary Protected Status and essential workers.
Without congressional legislation, the current DACA case sets up another high-stakes legal clash over immigration.
While it is unclear whether this case will end up before the Supreme Court, in a previous DACA-related case last year, three justices signaled in a dissent their belief that the program is unlawful. The full court has not yet weighed in on DACA’s legality.