A second federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to continue accepting renewal applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, finding that the administration failed to provide "legally adequate reasons" for ending it.
The nationwide injunction from US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis — which comes amid debate in Congress over immigration and the future of DACA — covers the same ground as a Jan. 9 injunction issued by a federal judge in California. The latest ruling again orders the administration to process renewal applications from existing DACA recipients, but stops short of ordering the administration to accept new applications from individuals who hadn't been part of the program before.
Although the latest order doesn't go beyond the nationwide injunction issued by the judge in California last month, it gives the challengers more fuel as the Justice Department — which has already asked the US Supreme Court to take up the California decision — digs in for a fight.
The DACA program has provided temporary protection against deportation for more than 700,000 young undocumented people brought to the United States as children since the Obama administration created it in 2012. The Trump administration announced on Sept. 5 that it would wind down the program, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling Obama's executive action creating DACA an "unconstitutional exercise of authority."
Since the September announcement, the US Department of Homeland Security has stopped accepting new applications.
Starting in early October, the department stopped accepting renewal applications from recipients whose benefits were set to expire by March 5. But on Jan. 9, US District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco ordered the administration to partially revive the program and resume accepting renewal applications, finding that the challengers who sued over the rescission were likely to succeed in arguing that it was "arbitrary and capricious."
The Department of Homeland Security has been accepting renewal applications since Alsup's order came down.
Garaufis wrote in Tuesday's order that the administration's decision to end DACA appeared to be based on the "erroneous" conclusion by Sessions that the program was unconstitutional and in violation of other federal laws.
"DACA is not unconstitutional simply because it was implemented by unilateral, executive action without express congressional authorization," Garaufis wrote. "The Executive Branch has wide discretion not to initiate or pursue specific enforcement actions."
Garaufis, in a footnote, questioned whether Sessions' conclusion that the program was unconstitutional reflected the administration's position. Garaufis linked to a Sept. 5 tweet from President Trump that read, "Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!"
"It is not clear how the President would 'revisit' the decision to rescind the DACA program if the DACA program were, as the Attorney General has stated, 'an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch,'" Garaufis wrote.
The judge also found that the administration's position that the program was unconstitutional seemed "internally contradictory" with the decision to continue to process renewal applications that had already been filed while the program was wound down.
Garaufis wrote there wasn't evidence in the record to support the government's argument that officials had decided to end the program out of concern that courts would strike it down, similar to the injunction that blocked the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program. DAPA would have provided similar protections from deportation to the undocumented parents of US citizens and legal permanent residents.
Justice Department spokesperson Devin O'Malley said in a statement that the department would continue to "vigorously" defend the administration's decision to end DACA. DOJ is fighting Alsup's January order and has petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the case right away and skip the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The Supreme Court has not said yet if it will take the case.
"Today's order doesn't change the Department of Justice's position on the facts: DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend these benefits to this same group of illegal aliens. As such, it was an unlawful circumvention of Congress, and was susceptible to the same legal challenges that effectively ended DAPA," O'Malley said. "The Department of Homeland Security therefore acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner."
The judge found that, although the Department of Homeland Security had authority to end the DACA program, the way it did so was likely "legally deficient." Garaufis made clear in his order that he wasn't requiring the administration to grant any applications, only to process them under the terms in place before the rescission was announced.
Garaufis ruled in two lawsuits, one filed by an individual who had been a DACA recipient and one filed by a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general, led by the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
"Federal courts from coast to coast have now reviewed the record and reached the same conclusion: President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA was illegal," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Today’s ruling reflects not only the illegality of the Trump Administration’s move to rescind DACA, but also the clear and demonstrable benefits DACA provides to New Yorkers across our great state."
This post has been updated with additional information from the court order.