A federal judge in Texas on Wednesday ruled -- again -- that the federal government's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is illegal, but he refrained from taking action to remove protections for the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants shielded under DACA.
The program, which began in 2012 under the Obama administration, currently covers around 600,000 young adults, commonly referred to as "Dreamers," who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children.
Under the program, those people have been protected from deportation and granted work authorization for the past 11 years.
U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen, who issued the latest ruling, previously found DACA unlawful in 2021, leading to a protracted appeals process.
"The Court, as it did before, hereby stays the effective date of the vacatur as to all DACA recipients who received their initial DACA status prior to July 16, 2021. The defendants may continue to administer the program as to those individuals, and that administration may include processing and granting DACA renewal applications for those individuals," Hanen wrote on Wednesday.
His decision continues the limbo under which DACA has operated for two years: Current recipients can seek to renew their protections but new applicants are barred from applying.
An appellate court in 2022 had ordered Hanen to review the program again in light of the Biden administration's efforts to now codify the policy in administrative law, an issue which had been the basis of Hanen's original decision.
The program was first launched in 2012 via a Department of Homeland Security memo under President Barack Obama and has been the subject of near-constant legal battles and political lobbying since.
At a hearing at the beginning of June, a coalition of the largely Republican-led states who are challenging the program claimed the Biden administration's administrative changes were not substantive and DACA remains unlawful.
The states, led by Texas, also argued that DACA recipients are an economic liability.
Hanen had sided with the nine states in 2021, agreeing with "the hardship that the continued operation of DACA has inflicted on them."
"The court clearly saw that this program is against the law through and through," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement after Hanen's 2021 ruling. "This lawsuit was about the rule of law – not the reasoning behind any immigration policy. The district court recognized that only Congress has the authority to write immigration laws, and the president is not free to disregard those duly-enacted laws as he sees fit."
But lawyers representing DACA recipients have argued that the states failed to show proof of injury and were not accounting for the economic contributions the hundreds of thousands of "Dreamers" have made after being able to enter the workforce, become homeowners and integrate into society.
Lawyers for the immigrants also argued the program is an example of executive discretion that any president can make, in line with past administrations.
Under President Donald Trump, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempted to terminate DACA in 2017, declaring the program to be unconstitutional. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the Trump administration failed to properly end the program.
Esther Jeon, 28, was first brought to the U.S. from Korea when she was 3 years old and has been protected under DACA since she was a high school senior.
“The loss of DACA would not just mean the loss of work authorization and protection from deportation, but would be the loss of these values we should hold as county,” Jeon told ABC News. “It’s helped me to remember that there are still 10 or more million other undocumented people who have never had DACA and have found a way to be resilient and continue to live in the United States.”
Attorneys for MALDEF, one of the co-litigators in the case representing DACA recipients including Jeon, told reporters in late May that they expect Hanen’s ruling to be appealed and that the case may end up for review by the Supreme Court.
After the news broke, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas released a statement commenting on the decision, saying he was "deeply disappointed by the ruling and uniquely qualified to say that DHS believes DACA is lawful and Constitutional."
His statement continued: “The ruling preserves the stay, which means current DACA recipients will not lose their protection from removal. But this ruling does undermine the security and stability of more than half a million Dreamers who have contributed to our communities. The United States is the only home they have ever known. Congress has failed to act, and now Dreamers face an uncertain future, waiting to receive the permanent protection they deserve.
"Consistent with the ruling, USCIS will continue to process DACA renewals, and DHS will continue to advocate on behalf of DACA recipients every day, in the courts and through our actions. We stand ready to work with Congress on an enduring solution for our Dreamers," his statement concluded.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also shared a statement noting the White House was also "deeply disappointed."
The statement continued: "As we have long maintained, we disagree with the District Court’s conclusion that DACA is unlawful, and will continue to defend this critical policy from legal challenges. While we do so, consistent with the court’s order, DHS will continue to process renewals for current DACA recipients and DHS may continue to accept DACA applications.
"We are committed to protecting all the Dreamers who have throughout their lives enriched our communities and our country, and we continue to call on Congress to provide permanent protection to the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers in the United States," the statement concluded.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.