President Biden on Saturday said it was “deeply disappointing” that a federal judge had decided to halt much of an Obama administration initiative that protected undocumented “dreamers” who arrived in the United States as children, and said the Justice Department planned to appeal the ruling. The judge’s decision also prompted Biden and other Democrats to redouble their pleas to Congress to pass legislation — even if it required a budget reconciliation process — that would provide a path to citizenship to dreamers.
“Only Congress can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve,” Biden said in a statement. “It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.”
U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen on Friday sided with Texas and other states in his ruling that President Barack Obama overstepped his executive authority when he created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, calling it an “illegally implemented program.”
The ruling by Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, allows the more than 600,000 young people already in the program to keep their protected status, but prohibits the Department of Homeland Security from approving new applications. Hanen also issued a permanent injunction vacating the memo that created DACA in 2012 — when Biden was vice president — and remanded the issue to the Department of Homeland Security for reconsideration.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Saturday that he too was “disappointed” by Hanen’s decision but that the department would continue processing DACA renewal requests, consistent with the ruling.
“DHS remains focused on safeguarding DACA, and we will engage the public in a rulemaking process to preserve and fortify DACA,” Mayorkas said in a statement. Like Biden, Mayorkas also called on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act through the reconciliation process “to provide permanent protection that the American people want and Dreamers have earned.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), who brought the lawsuit against the Biden administration and has sought to block the administration on other immigration-related matters, cheered the decision Saturday.
“I think it’s right to stop a president who just decided that he didn’t like federal law & came up with his own immigration laws,” Paxton tweeted. “We sued him, rightfully so, for violating federal law and we won.”
Hanen’s decision triggered an uproar from dreamers and activists, who decried Friday’s ruling as yet another instance of their long-term security being upended by political tempests. On Saturday morning, several DACA recipients and activists gathered in front of United Methodist Church in Washington to rally against the ruling and call on Congress to act.
“We are demanding, without any lack of clarity, citizenship through the reconciliation process,” Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of the nonprofit United We Dream, said to cheers.
She also fired off a warning shot to lawmakers, including Democrats, who released statements of sympathy and support that were not followed up by legislative action.
“We cannot do anything with your well wishes and your tweets,” she declared. “We are demanding clear action in this moment.”
Immigrants brought to this country as children, known as “dreamers,” are among the most sympathetic of the 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally. Still, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been unable to agree on whether to grant them legal status despite months of negotiations.
Democrats are considering whether to use a budget reconciliation measure to take that action, a move that would require only a simple majority vote in the evenly divided Senate.
In statements Friday, both Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed to press forward on legislation that would ensure dreamers have a pathway to citizenship. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who has sponsored legislation for the past 20 years to grant dreamers citizenship — without success — said Congress had “found excuses to put off this decision” for too many years.
“Congress will now act quickly — with or without the party of Donald Trump — to allow these Americans to finally become citizens,” Durbin said Friday.
But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) called on Democrats to vote on a proposal he and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) floated earlier this month to Durbin.
Cornyn and Tillis said they propose “targeted legislation” that would offer permanent legal status to “active participants” in DACA, and opined that anything broader is not “politically viable.”
“Now will Senator Durbin schedule debate and vote on a bill that will provide DACA recipients some certainty?” Cornyn said in a tweet after the ruling.
In a virtual news conference Friday night, however, activists blasted such “targeted legislation” from Republicans as misguided efforts to push their own agenda.
“In the coming days, we’re going to hear a lot about different politicians on both sides of the aisle who will come out and say to support DACA recipients,” said Bruna Sollod, a United We Dream spokeswoman and a DACA recipient. “Republicans in particular will feign sympathy for hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients, whose lives are on the line and again, but they will need billions more for deportation agents and border militarization that will only hurt our communities.”
Sollod called Hanen’s ruling “a blaring siren” for Biden and congressional Democrats to act immediately.
“We must reject empty words and misguided narratives from politicians, and instead demand real action and meaningful change that refuses to leave anyone in our communities behind,” Sollod said.