A federal judge in Maryland has ruled that the Trump administration's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was "rational," handing the administration its first significant legal win in the fight over the DACA wind-down.
US District Judge Roger Titus made clear in his ruling late Monday that he did not support the decision to end DACA — "The Court does not like the outcome of this case," he wrote — and he had tough words for Trump, referring to the president's comments about immigrants, particularly those of Mexican, Central American, and Latin American descent, as "unfortunate, less-than-politically-correct," and "misguided, inconsistent, and occasionally irrational."
But Titus nevertheless found that the US Department of Homeland Security acted within its authority when it decided last year to end the program, which has provided temporary protection against deportation for more than 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants. Titus's opinion is at odds with two decisions out of New York and California, both of which included nationwide injunctions that require the administration to continue processing renewal applications for existing DACA recipients.
Titus's decision doesn't disturb the injunctions that are already in place. But it provides the administration with a favorable opinion to quote from as it appeals the decisions out of New York and California. Both of those cases are pending in federal appeals courts, after the US Supreme Court last month declined the administration's request to have its appeal of the California decision go straight to the high court.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley said in a statement that officials "welcome the good news" out of Maryland.
"Today’s decision also highlights a serious problem with the disturbing growth in the use of nationwide injunctions, which causes the Maryland court’s correct judgment in favor of the government to be undermined by the overbroad injunctions that have been entered by courts in other states," O'Malley said.
Trump tweeted about the decision on Tuesday morning. He included the following line in quotation marks, "President Trump has the right to end DACA," appearing to attribute it to Titus, but that line isn't in Titus' opinion. The president blamed former president Barack Obama for failing to reach a permanent fix for the young people who have benefited from DACA, and said that he is "waiting for the Dems" to negotiate with his administration for a solution but "they are running for the hills."
Dennis Corkery, a lawyer with the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs representing the groups challenging the DACA rescission, said in an email to BuzzFeed News that they were considering several options, including an appeal.
Titus wrote that the record showed that when the administration announced it was rescinding the Obama-era program in September, then-acting DHS secretary Elaine Duke relied on a "reasonable belief" that the program was unlawful, based on advice from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the threat of legal action from the same Republican state attorneys general who successfully challenged a similar program adopted under Obama, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program.
"Assuming that a reasonable basis for that belief exists in the Administrative Record, how could trying to avoid unlawful action possibly be arbitrary and capricious? Quite simply, it cannot. Regardless of whether DACA is, in fact, lawful or unlawful, the belief that it was unlawful and subject to serious legal challenge is completely rational," Titus wrote.
Titus repeatedly criticized Trump for his "occasionally disparaging remarks" about immigrants and other subjects, but said they weren't relevant to the legal issues surrounding the DACA rescission.
"Complicating the picture for some observers is the unfortunate and often inflammatory rhetoric used by President Trump during the campaign, as well as his Twitter pronouncements, both before and after his election. Thoughtful and careful judicial review is not aided when the President lobs verbal hand grenades at the federal courts, the Department of Justice, and anyone else with whom he disagrees," Titus wrote.
Titus did block the Trump administration from using information provided by DACA recipients in immigration enforcement. Titus wrote that although the government promised not to use their personal information for those purposes, the Justice Department lawyer who argued the case before Titus "was unable
to provide any assurance that the Government would not make changes."
If the government wants to use a recipient's information for national security or public safety reasons, it will have to get the judge's permission to do so, under Monday's order.
"While we are disappointed with aspects of the ruling, we are pleased that Judge Titus entered a separate injunction prohibiting the Trump administration from using DACA applicant information for immigration enforcement purposes, as it has repeatedly threatened to do. This provides an important protection to Dreamers beyond the existing injunctions," Corkery said in a statement.
Titus concluded his opinion with a call to the executive and legislative branches to act.
"The result of this case is not one that this Court would choose if it were a member of a different branch of our government. An overwhelming percentage of Americans support protections for 'Dreamers,' yet it is not the province of the judiciary to provide legislative or executive actions when those entrusted with those responsibilities fail to act," Titus wrote. "This Court does not like the outcome of this case, but is constrained by its constitutionally limited role to the result that it has reached. Hopefully, the Congress and the President will finally get their job done."