DACA injunction: What a federal judge’s ruling means for ‘dreamers’

A federal judge’s decision to block the Trump administration’s plans to phase out protections for undocumented “dreamers” brought sharp backlash Wednesday from the White House, which called the injunction “outrageous.”

The order issued late Tuesday by U.S. District Judge William Alsup says safeguards against deportation must remain in place for the nearly 690,000people in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while a legal challenge to ending the program proceeds.

It remained unclear Wednesday when the DACA recipients, who were brought to this country illegally as children and are known as “dreamers,” could resume applying for renewals of their work permits as a result of the California ruling, which Alsup said should apply nationwide. Advocates said it would depend on the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the program.

The Trump administration has vowed to challenge Alsup’s ruling.

“They can’t go back and renew today,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We expect there to be a lot of confusion in communities about what that means.”

These former congressional interns share why the battle in Congress over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is so personal. (Melissa Macaya,Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

DACA recipients and their advocates said the decision added new urgency to negotiations between Congress and the White House on what to do about the dreamers, who are pushing for a path to citizenship. Trump has said any accomodations must be paired with increased border security, including a border wall.

“We can’t keep relying on lawsuits and different presidents to come in and upend our lives,” said Bruna Bouhid, a spokeswoman for United We Dream who came to the United States from Brazil at age 7 and has a work permit through the program.

“I don’t want to go through this anymore. It’s too hard. . . . You don’t know what your future looks like.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Alsup’s ruling “outrageous” and insisted that Congress must decide the fate of the DACA program.

“An issue of this magnitude must go through the normal legislative process,” Sanders said. “President Trump is committed to the rule of law, and will work with members of both parties to reach a permanent solution that corrects the unconstitutional actions taken by the last administration.”

On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted that a solution to DACA must be part of any federal budget deal, an effort to stoke negotiations in coming days.

“Let me be VERY clear: this ruling last night in no way diminishes the urgency of resolving the DACA issue,” Schumer said. “On this, we agree with @WhiteHouse, who says the ruling doesn’t do anything to reduce Congress’ obligation.”

Leaders of both parties said that the ruling is unlikely to upend ongoing talks.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a lead GOP broker on immigration policy, said it was a “bizarre idea that something President Obama created can’t be uncreated by President Trump.”

“My sense, though, is it doesn’t change the need for us to act, and so we’re going forward,” Cornyn said. “We’re plowing ahead.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who joined Cornyn at the White House Tuesday for a highly unusual, televised meeting with Trump, said he remains hopeful that a deal will be struck in the coming days. He recalled that during the meeting, Trump asked lawmakers, “Is there anybody here not for taking care of the DACA recipients?”

“Not one of them said they were against that,” Hoyer said. “Everyone agreed yes, we need to take care of DACA-protected individuals, we need to take care of them now.”

Alsup did not rule on the merits of the case, but he said that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claims that the decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and would suffer irreparable harm — immigrants could lose their jobs, and companies and universities could lose valuable students and workers — if the Trump administration ended DACA before the legal dispute is resolved.

“Plaintiffs have clearly demonstrated that they are likely to suffer serious irreparable harm absent an injunction,” Alsup wrote. “Before DACA, Individual Plaintiffs, brought to America as children, faced a tough set of life and career choices turning on the comparative probabilities of being deported versus remaining here. DACA gave them a more tolerable set of choices, including joining the mainstream workforce.”

Massachusetts, New York, Washington and other states are seeking a similar preliminary injunction in federal court in Brooklyn, part of a separate lawsuit on behalf of DACA recipients.

President Barack Obama thrilled immigrants in 2012 by granting work permits and deportation reprieves to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Republicans accused him of illegally sidestepping Congress, however, and Trump vowed throughout his campaign to swiftly end the program. Texas and other states threatened to sue the administration if they did not take steps to end the program by Sept. 5.

Once in office, Trump wavered for months, openly expressing sympathy for the dreamers, who have received broad public support in part because they did not knowingly break the law when their parents brought or sent them to this country.

Many have lived in the United States most of their lives and are college graduates. Some were high school valedictorians. They work in a wide range of industries, including tech companies, the health-care field andpublic schools. Many own houses and are the parents of U.S.-born children, who are American citizens.

On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the administration would terminate the program starting in March, when an estimated 1,000 DACA recipients a day would start to lose their status.

Alsup ruled that while the lawsuit is pending, anyone who had DACA status as of Sept. 5 can renew it.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra brought the San Francisco lawsuit, joined by the attorneys general for Maine, Maryland and Minnesota, as well as the University of California, DACA recipients and others. California is home to the largest group of DACA recipients — about 200,000 people.

Alsup’s ruling is “an affirmation of the principle that no one is above the law,” Becerra said in a telephone interview. “We said it from the very beginning: Donald Trump and this administration did not follow the rules in trying to abandon the DACA program.”

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said the ruling does not change the department’s position that DACA “was an unlawful circumvention of Congress. . . . The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation.”

Alsup said his ruling does not apply to dreamers who are in high school and had hoped to apply for DACA protections for the first time this year.

Hincapié, of the National Immigration Law Center, said she expects a tough court battle over DACA, similar to the back-and-forth over Trump’s travel ban and other issues. She called the California ruling “a temporary victory.”

“This is yet another federal court saying to the Trump administration that they have overstepped,” she said.

Brian Murphy, Ed O’Keefe and Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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