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A Texas judge blocked DACA protections, ramping up pressure for congressional action

By: - July 16, 2021 4:38 pm
DACA dreamers

DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18, 2020. Photo by Drew Angerer | Getty Images

A Texas judge on Friday blocked the federal government from granting temporary work permits and deferral from deportation to first-time applicants to the Deferred Action from Childhood Arrivals program. 

Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s ruling stems from a 2018 lawsuit filed by nine states that claims the DACA program, which President Barack Obama created with an executive order in 2012, is unlawful. 

Hanen said the federal government violated administrative laws when creating DACA in 2012, but he stopped short of ending the program or rescinding the status of the over 600,000 people who benefit from the program. Hanen’s ruling does not affect people who currently have DACA, known colloquially as dreamers, or those who are applying to renew their two-year work permit.

Friday’s decision adds more distress to a three-year roller coaster of rulings in several lawsuits and legislative back-and-forth that has made uncertainty the only constant among generations of dreamers and their families.

The decision also comes at a time when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is experiencing a backlog of more than 55,000 cases of first-time DACA applicants. Those people are directly impacted by Hanen’s decision, and thousands of eligible people were barred from applying for DACA for more than two years. 

Daniela Chavira, a Tempe resident, is one of them. The 19-year-old has been eligible to apply for DACA since 2017, but due to the Trump administration’s decision to phase out the program and several legal challenges, she had to wait until December 2020 — when USCIS announced it would begin accepting new applications — to apply for the temporary protection. 

While DACA adjudication used to take a few months, the agency’s current backlog is prolonging the limbo for people like Chavira. The Hanen ruling aggravates that. 

“I am beyond devastated, words can not describe how I am feeling right now,” Chavira said in a statement from Aliento, a local community group that advocates for DACA students and undocumented youth. “Us being undocumented does not make us any less human. We are your neighbors, friends, but most importantly part of this community. Now, I will continue to live in constant limbo and be subject to deportation if Congress does not act. Change needs to happen now! I want every undocumented person to know that they are not alone and that we will continue to advocate so that this fear and uncertainty can come to an end.”

Chavira is a student at Grand Canyon University and has worked with Aliento.

Karina Ruiz, a DACA recipient who for years has benefited from the program, is the executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition. She said Friday’s ruling makes thousands of dreamers subject to deportation and she called on Congress to act to pass a permanent solution. 

“This is a time for Congress to act, this puts urgency in the matter,” Ruiz said. Ruiz is in Mexico through a benefit that was reinstated in December called advance parole, which allows people with DACA to travel outside of the country for educational, employment or humanitarian purposes and return.

“I hope (border) agents don’t give me trouble coming back,” she said. 

Ruiz called on U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to either vote to end the filibuster, which has allowed Republican Senators to block legislation like the Dream and Promise Act from being voted on, or to vote for a budget reconciliation package that includes immigration reform. Such a reconciliation package was reported this week to include a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, Temporary Protected Status holders, essential workers and farmworkers.   

ADAC has been part of the local groups who are pressuring Sinema to act to advance legislation to restore voting protections and reform immigration laws.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez Rodriguez previously covered state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror.