Judge on DACA: Trump Must Accept New Applicants
By Bob Egelko
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that President Trump had offered no legal justification for canceling DACA protections for nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants, in a ruling that -- for the first time -- would require the administration to accept new applicants to the program.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Bates of Washington, D.C., came after decisions by federal judges in San Francisco and New York that also rejected Trump's rationale for halting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But while the earlier rulings barred the administration from ending DACA for current recipients, making them subject to deportation, Bates went a step further and said the government must allow others to apply.
"Each day that the agency delays is a day that aliens who might otherwise be eligible for initial grants of DACA benefits are exposed to removal (from the U.S.) because of an unlawful agency action," Bates said. "Time is of the essence."
However, he suspended his ruling for 90 days to give the administration a chance to offer a legally valid explanation for its decision to cancel the program. The administration could also ask higher courts for a stay while it appeals Bates' ruling, as it has done in the San Francisco and New York cases. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear the San Francisco case on May 15.
President Barack Obama established DACA by executive order in 2012. It allows people who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, later attended school or served in the military, and had no serious criminal records to apply for renewable two-year reprieves from deportation, and for work permits.
Trump announced in September that he would eliminate the program on March 3 of this year unless Congress enacted it into law. No such law has been approved.
Suits challenging the cancellation were filed by the UC Regents, by California and other states, and, in Tuesday's case, by plaintiffs who included the NAACP, two labor unions and Microsoft Corp. They argued that the administration had acted arbitrarily, in violation of federal law, because it had failed to offer a rational explanation for rescinding a program that had been in effect for more than five years.
In reply, the Trump administration said its Department of Homeland Security had concluded that DACA itself had been adopted illegally and exceeded Obama's presidential powers. The administration also said the program was likely to be struck down in a lawsuit by Republican-led states, similar to the suit that had overturned Obama's order to extend deportation protections to several million parents of DACA recipients and legal U.S. residents.
But Bates said the Trump administration had failed to rebut findings in 2014 by the same agency under Obama, explained in detail after an extensive study, that the program was within the president's authority to decide to deport certain groups of undocumented immigrants, those posing the greatest dangers, and allow others to remain. The prospect of a lawsuit did not add to Trump's rationale, Bates said, especially since the program targeted by the earlier suit was different than DACA.
The administration's defense of its action also "made no mention of the fact that DACA had been in place for five years and had engendered the reliance of hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries, many of whom had structured their education, employment, and other life activities on the assumption that they would be able to renew their DACA benefits," Bates said.
(c)2018 the San Francisco Chronicle