US judge hears arguments targeting deportation protections for DACA program


FILE – In this Nov. 12, 2019, file photo people rally outside the Supreme Court over President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), at the Supreme Court in Washington. A Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020 federal court hearing in Houston over a U.S. program shielding immigrants brought to the country illegally as children highlights the peril the program still faces even under an incoming Democratic president who has pledged to protect it. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

HOUSTON (Reuters) — A Texas-led coalition of nine states urged a federal judge on Tuesday to invalidate a program that grants hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States as children the right to live and work in the country.

The states have argued that the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was not created lawfully by former President Barack Obama in 2012.

The case could upend the lives of the nearly 650,000 people who are beneficiaries of the program, which protects them from deportation, allows them to work, grants access to driver’s licenses, and in some cases improves access to financial aid for education.

The program has withstood a number of challenges since its creation, including a move by Republican President Donald Trump in 2017 to end it. The U.S. Supreme Court in June found that his administration’s efforts were “arbitrary and capricious” and did not follow proper procedures.

The Supreme Court, however, did not rule on the overarching legality of DACA. A ruling on the challenge brought by Texas and the other states, which is being heard by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, could address that question.

Todd Disher, an attorney representing Texas and states, argued in a court hearing that Obama’s creation of DACA violated rulemaking procedures and opened the door to broader legalization of immigrants by the executive branch.

“Why could it not do the same for every unlawfully present person in the United States?” he asked.

“That is not within the executive’s power, so therefore this grant of deferred action must fail,” he said.

Nina Perales, the lead attorney for DACA recipients, said the executive branch had the authority to use its own discretion to decide how to enforce immigration laws. She said DACA did not run counter to existing immigration laws, in part because it does not provide formal legal immigration status to recipients.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to restore DACA and put forward legislation that would offer a path to citizenship to the estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally, including DACA enrollees.

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