Federal judge rules United States must keep DACA and accept new applications

Nearly 26,000 DACA recipients live in Arizona, according to the Department of Homeland Security. (Photo by Andrea Jaramillo/Cronkite News)

A federal judge’s pointed attack on the Trump administration’s attempts to do away with DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, drew stark and sharply differing reactions from officials and advocates Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge John Bates on Tuesday called the decision to end the program “arbitrary and capricious,” and ordered the White House to completely restore the program but delayed his order for 90 days, giving the government time to respond.

Bates continued, “Neither the meager legal reasoning nor the assessment of litigation risk provided by DHS to support its rescission decision is sufficient to sustain termination of the DACA program.”

DACA was implemented in 2012 by former President Barack Obama, granting temporary status to work and live in the U.S. to people who were brought illegally as children.

Last fall, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration was rescinding the program and no longer accepting new applications.

In a statement, Devin O’Malley, a DOJ spokesman, said Tuesday’s ruling “doesn’t change the Department of Justice’s position on the facts.”

As of March 31, Arizona is home to about 25,970 DACA recipients, nearly 4 percent of the U.S. total, according to a DHS report.

22,370 of those recipients reside in Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale, while 2,210 live in Tucson, according to the same report.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, welcomed the ruling, even though it’s not the permanent solution that’s needed; Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said Bates’ “sympathies for illegal criminals overcame any legal analysis.”

Bates is the third federal judge since January to block the administration’s attempt to discontinue the program, which protects nearly 694,000 undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

– Timeline graphic by Katriona Martin and Tatum Smith

The first order came January in California and then a month later, a federal judge in New York reciprocated the decision.

DACA recipient and advocate Abril Gallardo of Phoenix said these rulings have further motivated DREAMers to seek a permanent solution.

“All of the marches here and in D.C. that we have been involved in, and the lobbying that we have been doing is working and it just gives me more fuel to continue to push for permanent protection for immigrant youth,” Gallardo said.

However, former immigration judge Andrew Arthur, a resident fellow of law and policy at the conservative-leaning Center for Immigration Studies, said these cases probably are headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The fact is that DACA was the result not even of an executive action, but rather of a memo that was issued by the secretary of Homeland Security without notice and without comment for the same reasons that DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) was determined to be unlawful,” Arthur said.

“For that reason, termination of DACA was appropriate and no additional explanation for that determination is necessary.”

But some say Tuesday’s ruling carries more weight than the previous two.

“It makes it more powerful because all the other court rulings merely allow the renewals of DACA recipients of the DACA applications,” said Salvador Macías, a Phoenix immigration attorney. “This opens the program wide up, back to what it originally was.”

Grijalva also said the court’s decision “confirms what we knew all along.” He criticized the administration’s defense, calling it “erratic, impulsive, and based on the nativist voices in his administration that seek to close America’s doors to immigrants.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a briefing that Bates’ decision was broad and wrong, calling it “good news for smuggling organizations and criminal networks and horrible news for our national security.”

“What’s worse is that it creates incentive for more illegal immigrant youth to come here and causes them to expect similar judicial policies be applied to them,” Sanders said.

Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, called the ruling illegal and said federal judges who have blocked the Trump administration regarding DACA before should not have a seat at this table.

– Cronkite News video by Lillian Donahue

“None of those cases should have even been considered,” Krikorian said. “The judges had no business even hearing those cases. The administration has political branches of government who have the authority to do this.”

Republicans, including Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, were infuriated with the judge’s decision, even going so far as threatening congressional punishment.

“President Trump should direct his officials to disregard this ruling and continue to unwind the DACA program,” Biggs said. “Congress can take action against judges who abuse their constitutional mandates.”

Gosar, a staunch supporter of law-and-order immigration policy, agreed in a written statement, saying the ruling backed what he called an “unconstitutional action.”

“Judges like this create a judicial tyranny by imposing their political preferences instead of ruling on the law,” Gosar said.

Arthur said the judges could be impeached, but he does not have a position on this. The rulings “need to be appealed to the relevant Court of Appeals and then on to the Supreme Court for a final determination if the Courts of Appeals do not reverse,” he said.

Tuesday’s ruling was another attempt to remove the uncertainty looming over undocumented immigrants on the federal level. In February, the Senate voted on four immigration proposals but none garnered the votes to pass. A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a similar path in the House in late March.

In a statement released Tuesday night, the Justice Department said it would continue to “vigorously defend” the legality of its decision to end the DACA program and looked “forward to vindicating its position in further litigation.”

Cronkite News reporter Lillian Donahue contributed to this report.

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