Young, undocumented immigrants who hoped to secure protections from deportation are asking a New York federal court to order interim relief while a separate legal battle over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program plays out in Texas.
Plaintiffs in a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York argued in a motion filed Monday that the Biden administration went beyond the requirements of an order from a Texas federal court by suspending the processing of first-time DACA applicants and adjudication of DACA renewals.
The program, established by the Obama administration in 2012, offers immigrants brought to the US as children protection from removal and separate work authorization. But its long-term status remains in doubt after a Texas federal district court declared the program unlawful last year.
That decision halting the program left protections in place for roughly 600,000 existing applicants. But the New York plaintiffs argue that neither federal court has addressed what should happen to applications received between the restoration of the program in December 2020 and that ruling last year.
Individuals who filed applications within days of the New York ruling have been left in limbo for as long as 16 months, plaintiffs said in their motion. And while US Citizenship and Immigration Services has kept applicants’ $495 application fees, the agency hasn’t taken other steps to process applications, like collecting biometric information, they said.
In a filing in response to the motion, the Biden administration argued that the interim relief requested by the plaintiffs would run afoul of the Texas injunction against administering the DACA program for anyone but existing recipients.
Parallel Legal Battles
After a Supreme Court decision in 2020 found that the Trump administration had violated the Administrative Procedure Act in attempting to roll back the DACA program, then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf ordered a new review of the program and halted any new applications. Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled in December 2020 that the agency must again open the program to new applicants in response to a class action brought by several immigrants.
USCIS received about 80,000 DACA applications between that ruling and a July 2021 decision from the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas that found the program invalid because it never went through a formal rulemaking process. That ruling is on appeal at the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is finalizing DACA regulations that it argues will put the program on firmer legal footing.
The agency should be ordered to provide deportation relief and work eligibility to first-time applicants until a decision on their cases is made, the plaintiffs said. They also requested the court order the agency to adjudicate the cases of DACA applicants whose prior approvals had expired.
“First-Time Applicants and Extended Renewal Applicants (collectively, Pending Applicants) are languishing at USCIS, with foreseeable delays of many more months as the Texas II order proceeds through appeals to the Fifth Circuit and, likely, the Supreme Court,” they said.
The plaintiffs in the New York case are represented by lawyers at the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, the National Immigration Law Center, and Make the Road New York.
The case is Batalla Vidal v. Mayorkas, E.D.N.Y., No. 1:16-cv-04756, motion filed 6/6/22.