The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has entered the news again after protecting thousands of people in California and around the country from deportation. A judge in Texas has declared the program to be illegal. It is on hold for new applicants and there are still questions associated with recent recipients. Time will tell if the program will be able to survive.
What happened to DACA?
DACA was introduced by President Barack Obama in 2012 as a policy of U.S. immigration law to help solve the problem of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Obama imposed this policy without legislative authorization by simply moving people with approved DACA protections to the back of the line for deportations.
This ambiguous legal status resulted in immediate lawsuits and questions of constitutionality. For several years, courts sustained DACA as a decision having to do with enforcement of the laws under the executive branch. But in September, a Texas judge decided that the program was illegal because it was not imposed through a formal rule-making process as required by federal law. The decision only affected new potential DACA applicants and did not change the status of those who have already received benefits.
The next step will be movement to a full vote by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. If that court upholds the decision, the Biden administration will certainly appeal and the case will end up in the Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court has taken a conservative turn in the past several years and there is a decent chance that the program will be terminated. If it is, SCOTUS will have to issue new guidelines for how immigration officials should treat both current recipients and those who are eligible in the future. There is no way to guarantee how far the Supreme Court will want to insert itself into this difficult political issue.