CORNER-CUTTING AND rule-breaking have been hallmarks of the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate protections for “dreamers,” the young undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children by their parents. That pattern of incompetence and malfeasance, identified by federal judges, the Supreme Court and Congress’s nonpartisan watchdog, has kept the program in business — and allowed hundreds of thousands of young migrants to continue living fruitful lives here — despite officials’ tireless efforts to kill it.

Last Saturday, a federal court in New York cited officials for their bumbling, and thus became a target for the administration’s howls of outrage. Yet U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis was not the first person in a position of authority to note that the administration has made a legal mess of its assault on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that shields hundreds of thousands of dreamers from deportation and grants them work permits.

The judge, reviewing the hijinks that led to the ascension of acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf, noted that his appointment was illegal and, therefore, his moves to neuter the DACA program were “not an exercise of legal authority.” In fact, Judge Garaufis wasn’t the first to come to that conclusion. In August, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan watchdog, also found that Mr. Wolf, as well as his No. 2, acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli, are ineligible to serve owing to mistakes in their appointments. And if their appointments were illegitimate, then so are the orders they have issued, including one, in July, that halved the validity of work permits issued to dreamers to one year.

President Trump’s efforts to end DACA, thereby imperiling the welfare of some 650,000 current beneficiaries, plus several hundred thousand more who are eligible but not currently covered, has always been a sotto voce affair. On the one hand, Mr. Trump knows that a large majority of Americans are sympathetic to dreamers, who grew up in this country and have no prospects elsewhere; that’s dissuaded him from launching a full-throated public assault on the program. On the other hand, the president has done everything he can to subvert DACA, as part of his crusade against every type of migrant, legal and illegal.

The administration’s corner-cutting, in DACA’s case, started with the president’s distaste for formally confirming Cabinet secretaries, thereby granting to himself the authority to fire them more easily if he so chooses. But corner-cutting often invites legal consequences, as Judge Garaufis’s ruling makes clear.

The precise consequences for DACA are unclear. The program’s advocates cheered the ruling, yet there is no assurance it means the program’s beneficiaries are safe from further administration efforts to neuter their protections, or withdraw their work permits, in the two months remaining in Mr. Trump’s term. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, in June, blocking the administration from ending DACA, the president and his nativist underlings still seem determined to gut it.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to return DACA to its original form and end the attack on a program whose abolition would serve no Americans’ interests. That would restore security for the dreamers, and a measure of sanity for U.S. policy.

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