Federal judge rules against ending DACA program; White House condemns decision
WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Tuesday, April 24, against President Donald Trump’s administration’s decision to end a program protecting some young immigrants from deportation, calling the Department of Homeland Security’s rationale against the program “arbitrary and capricious.”
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington wrote that the decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, “was predicated primarily on its legal judgment that the program was unlawful. That legal judgment was virtually unexplained, however, and so it cannot support the agency’s decision.”
Bates gave the Department of Homeland Security 90 days to “better explain its view that DACA is unlawful.” If the department cannot come up with a better explanation, he wrote, then it “must accept and process new, as well as renewal, DACA applications.”
DACA allowed immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay and work legally under renewable permits. President Donald Trump announced last year that he would end the program started by President Barack Obama. It was officially rescinded in March, but the Department of Homeland Security is continuing to issue renewals because of previous court orders.
Window to respond
Bates’ ruling Tuesday night came in a pair of cases whose lead plaintiffs are the NAACP and Princeton University.
Siding with the plaintiffs, Bates wrote that the administration’s explanation was “particularly egregious” because it didn’t mention that many of the hundreds of thousands covered by the program had obtained jobs and pursued education based on the assumption that they would be allowed to renew.
The White House on Wednesday sharply criticized the judge’s ruling. Presidential press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders characterized the ruling as “good news” for smuggling organizations and criminal networks and “horrible news for our national security.”
The administration contends the program, started in 2012, is a misuse of executive power and that it had to act because Texas and other states threatened to sue.
The administration could appeal immediately Bates’ ruling or try again with Bates in the 90-day window he gave. Consolidating the DACA challenges into a single case is a possibility, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell University.
“It’s complicated now because you have these different cases,” Yale-Loehr said.
Yale-Loehr estimates that tens of thousands of people who meet the criteria but never applied could benefit from Bates’ ruling.
The NAACP, joined by two major labor unions, sued the administration in September. Princeton, joined by Microsoft Corp. and a student, followed in November. Bates, an appointee of President George W. Bush, combined the two cases.
Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said he was “delighted.”
“While the decision does not fully resolve the uncertainty facing DACA beneficiaries, it unequivocally rejects the rationale the government has offered for ending the program and makes clear that the (Department of Homeland Security) acted arbitrarily and capriciously,” he said.
Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, said he hoped the ruling would motivate Congress to deliver a legislative fix. Bradford M. Berry, NAACP’s general counsel, called the ruling “a major win for advocates for justice and a compassionate democracy.”
Not the first time
Nearly 690,000 people were enrolled in DACA when the Trump administration said it was ending the program, and eight out of 10 were from Mexico. To qualify, they needed to have arrived before they turned 16, been younger than 31 in June 2012, completed high school or served in the military and had clean criminal records. The two-year-permits are subject to renewal.
Bates is the third judge to rule against administration plans to end the program. Two nationwide injunctions earlier this year applied only to renewal requests for DACA.
In January, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco ruled that the administration failed to justify ending the program; his nationwide injunction forced the administration to resume accepting renewal requests within a week. A federal judge in New York issued a similar ruling in February; a judge in Maryland sided with the administration.
The Supreme Court in February denied the administration’s unusual request to leapfrog appeals courts and take on Alsup’s injunction, ensuring that DACA would stay in effect for the time being.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put its review of Alsup’s decision on a fast track, but legal experts don’t expect a decision until June at the earliest. From there, it is expected to go to the Supreme Court, which may not rule until the spring of 2019.
Other Associated Press reports contributed to this article.