Children of undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers prevailed in the first federal appeals court showdown over the Trump administration’s move to do away with the Obama-era program.
The ruling Thursday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upholds one of four lower-court rulings barring the government from ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows about 700,000 people to legally live, study and work in the U.S. and protects them from deportation. President Donald Trump and Congress remain in a stalemate over whether to preserve, modify or phase out the program.
The Trump administration unveiled its plan for an “orderly wind-down” of DACA in September 2017. Since then, relations between the White House and Democrats have further soured and the DACA debate was overshadowed by controversy over the president’s “zero tolerance” border crossing crackdown that led to thousands of migrant parents and children being separated in detention.
There was little incentive for a political solution before November’s mid-term elections because there was no immediate threat of DACA beneficiaries being deported.
The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.
U.S. Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw highlighted the success story of one of the lead plaintiffs in the case -- an undocumented resident of San Diego who grew up in poverty, then graduated from law school and now has her own law practice.
“It is no hyperbole to say that Dulce Garcia embodies the American dream,” wrote Wardlaw, who was appointed to the Ninth Circuit court by former President Bill Clinton and is the first Hispanic-American woman to serve on a federal appeals court. “With due respect for the executive branch, we disagree” that DACA is illegal.
She added that “plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that the rescission of DACA -- at least as justified on this record -- is arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”
The other judges on the panel -- Jacqueline Nguyen and John Owens -- were both appointed by former President Barack Obama. Owens wrote separately to partly dissent on procedural issues.
The Trump administration this week urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take the unusual step of bypassing federal appeals courts to get the DACA litigation resolved by next summer.
If the high court doesn’t take up the matter, Trump’s best chance of winning in a lower court may lie with a case filed this year with a federal judge in a Texas border town who previously shut down a related Obama administration immigrant-protection program.
While the judge in Brownsville, Texas, in August declined a request by the state of Texas and other Republican-led states to immediately halt DACA, he said the states will probably succeed in proving the program was launched unlawfully in 2012 without congressional approval.
Separate appeals courts are reviewing rulings by judges in Brooklyn, New York, and Washington that halted Trump’s effort to rescind DACA.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco was the first jurist to rule on the president’s directive to phase out DACA in March 2018. In his January ruling, Alsup rejected the government’s argument that the courts can’t review whether the president improperly decided to terminate the program.
Alsup ruled that the government need not process new DACA applications and was free to deport Dreamers found to pose a national security or public safety threat. But he did require federal officials to honor prior DACA approvals and to process renewal applications while the court fight continued.
The case is UC Regents v. USDHS, 18-15068, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).
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