A federal appeals court has ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides deportation protection and specific benefits to immigrants who entered the country illegally as children, is unlawful.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled Wednesday to uphold a lower court decision blocking the Biden administration from granting new applications for DACA. The ruling allows current DACA recipients the ability to renew their two-year protected status.
The appeals court panel remanded the case to a district court in Houston to consider a new Biden administration policy enacted in August in hopes of protecting the program.
Fifth Circuit Chief Judge Priscilla Richman authored the panel opinion, writing that the lower court is right when to conclude that DACA violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
"DACA created a detailed, streamlined process for granting enormously significant, predefined benefits to over 800,000 people. This constitutes a substantive rule," Richman, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, wrote in the majority opinion.
"Because DACA did not undergo notice and comment, it violates the procedural requirements of the APA."
Richman concluded that DACA "contravenes comprehensive statutory schemes for removal, allocation of lawful presence, and allocation of work authorization."
"Declining to prosecute does not transform presence deemed unlawful by Congress into lawful presence and confer eligibility for otherwise unavailable benefits based on that change," the opinion added, quoting an earlier ruling against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.
Created during the Obama administration in 2012, DACA provided people who were minors when they illegally entered the U.S. with benefits, including protection from being deported, the ability to apply for a driver's license, a social security number and a permit to work.
Other conditions to be eligible for DACA relief included having no criminal record, being a student or honorably discharged veteran of the armed forces, being under the age of 30 when the memorandum was released and having lived in the U.S. for at least five years from when the program was initiated.
The policy protected over 800,000 immigrants — known as Dreamers — but didn't grant them a pathway to citizenship or official legal status.
Richman acknowledged that "DACA has had profound significance to recipients and many others in the ten years since its adoption."
"Given the 'uncertainty of the final disposition' and the 'inevitable disruption that would arise from a lack of continuity and stability,' we preserve the stay as to existing recipients," the opinion states.
President Donald Trump's efforts to rescind DACA were thwarted by litigation, with the U.S. Supreme Court stopping the Trump administration from ending the program in a 5-4 decision in 2020.
In July 2021, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen issued an order halting the Biden administration from granting new applications for DACA, concluding in part that the Obama-era DHS violated the APA with the creation and continued operation of DACA.
"The DACA Memorandum and the DACA program that it created are hereby vacated and remanded to DHS for further consideration," wrote Hanen last year.
World Relief, an Evangelical humanitarian organization that has helped to file more than 4,300 DACA applications, released a statement denouncing the district court's order as "devastating" to Dreamers.
"This new decision is devastating for these resilient young people, and for their families, churches, communities and employers," stated World Relief President Scott Arbeiter at the time.
"Congress should not wait for further court decisions: they must act immediately to finally pass legislation that the significant majority of Americans. Including the majority of evangelical Christians, say they support."
Immigration advocates have been calling on the U.S. Congress for years to pass immigration reform legislation. Those calls will be heightened in the aftermath of Wednesday's ruling.