A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled unlawful the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects an estimated 600,000 immigrants, including 17,000 in Washington state, from deportation.
The three-judge panel on the conservative-leaning 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a 2021 ruling against the program from a federal judge in Texas, but did not order the Biden administration to stop the program, known as DACA.
Thousands of people who are eligible for DACA but have been unable to apply remain in limbo. The halt on the program and lack of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S. has left families with permanent fears.
DACA was adopted by President Barack Obama’s administration and has had a complicated ride through federal court challenges.
Texas-based U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen last year declared DACA illegal. He found that the program had not been subjected to public notice and comment periods required under the federal Administrative Procedure Act. But he left the program temporarily intact for those already benefiting from it, pending the appeal.
The appeals court sent the case back to Hanen to review the legality of regulations — set by the Biden administration this summer as part of a push to regulate the program — that are expected to take effect Oct. 31.
The Biden administration is likely to file an appeal to Wednesday’s decision, which would leave the Supreme Court to decide whether to hear the case.
In July arguments at the 5th Circuit, the U.S. Justice Department defended the program, allied with the state of New Jersey, immigrant advocacy organizations and a coalition of dozens of powerful corporations, including Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft. They argued that DACA recipients have grown up to become productive drivers of the U.S. economy, holding and creating jobs and spending money.
Texas, joined by eight other Republican-leaning states, argued that they are harmed financially, incurring hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, education and other costs, when immigrants are allowed to remain in the country illegally. They also argued that the White House overstepped its authority by granting immigration benefits that are for Congress to decide.
Wednesday’s ruling is hardly a surprise to many, considering the conservative makeup of the appeals court.
“This should be a sounding alarm for Congress to pass a permanent solution,” said longtime advocate and DACA recipient Kamau Chege, who co-founded the Washington Dream Coalition, an organization led by undocumented youths. “It’s undeniable that DACA recipients contribute to the fabric and economy of this country.”
A poll commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union found 63% of registered U.S. voters in 2021 supported a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, immigrants working in essential industries and those with temporary protected status in the U.S.
DACA recipients are protected from deportation and afforded work authorization. But there’s no pathway for them to gain residency in the U.S. despite many calling this country home.
“Congress has not been acting with the level of urgency they should. Still, we dodged a bullet,” Chege said, referring to the appeals court’s decision to declare the program unlawful but not abruptly end it.
The uncertainty surrounding DACA has left many unable to make long-term plans and has severely affected some recipients’ mental health, said Malou Chávez, an attorney and deputy director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
“The ruling sends a message that they’re not a part of this country despite having spent most of their lives here,” Chávez said.
Matt Adams, the nonprofit’s legal director, said the program is still essentially functioning as it had while the decision was pending, but the potential upheaval is detrimental to DACA recipients and their families.
“There’s no stability,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.