A federal judge in Texas declined Friday to order an immediate halt to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era initiative that has allowed 700,000 young people, known as "Dreamers," to avoid deportation.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville, Texas, was a blow to Texas and seven other states that hoped Hanen would find the program, known as DACA, as objectionable as he did another Obama program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.
"Today's favorable ruling brings joy and relief to many young immigrants and their communities who have been waiting to hear whether DACA would be blocked," said Karla Perez, a DACA recipient who had urged the court to let the program continue.
DACA allows children of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States if they were under 16 when their parents brought them to the country and if they arrived by 2007. Three years ago, Hanen had blocked DAPA, which was intended to allow parents who came to the United States to remain if they had U.S.-citizen children, ruling in an earlier lawsuit also initiated by Texas.
On Friday, Hanen devoted most of his 117-page opinion to agreeing with Texas that the Obama administration did not have authority to impose the DACA program. But he declined to issue an injunction stopping its enforcement, concluding that the challengers waited too long to seek the order.
"As the Justice Department has consistently argued, DACA is an unlawful attempt to circumvent Congress, and we are pleased the court agreed today," said U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Devin O'Malley.
The issuance of such an injunction is a matter of fairness, Hanen said, and courts have long ruled that a delay in seeking one is a sign that the harm claimed by the challengers isn't serious enough to justify it.
"The states could have brought a lawsuit against the entire program in 2012 or anytime thereafter," Hanen wrote. Instead they asked to shut down a program that's been in operation for more than six years, which would deprive DACA recipients of their legal status and ability to work, he said.
Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the decision "recognizes that the balance of possible injuries and the public interest weigh heavily in favor of allowing DACA renewals to continue."
But while Friday's ruling denied the states the injunction they sought to shut the program down immediately, it also suggested that when the case goes to trial, the judge will rule in their favor and find that President Obama had no authority to impose it.
"We are now very confident that DACA will soon meet the same fate" as the DAPA program, said Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general who led the states in opposing both immigration initiatives.
Three other federal courts have ruled in favor of DACA's legal status, after the Trump administration said last September that it would end the program within six months. Following a brief hiatus, the government began accepting renewal applications from DACA participants, which must be filed every two years.