Federal judge orders DACA program to halt approval of new applications

A U.S. federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is illegal, ordering the program to halt approvals of new applications.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled partly in favor of Texas and eight other conservative states that had sued to halt the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides limited protections to about 650,000 people. 

People who are already enrolled won't lose protections, but Hanen is barring the approval of new applications.

Hanen's decision limits the immediate ability of President Joe Biden, who pledged during his campaign to protect DACA, to keep the program or something similar in place. His ruling is the second by a federal judge in Texas stopping Biden's immigration plans, after a court barred enforcement of Biden's 100-day stay on most deportations.

Hanen said that when the program was created during the Obama administration, there was no legal authority to grant delayed deportation status to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, court documents said. 

Court documents also said that current DACA recipients will be exempt from any criminal action taken against their immigration status. 

"Neither this order nor the accompanying injunction requires the DHS or the Department of Justice to take any immigration, deportation, or criminal action against any DACA recipient, applicant, or any other individual that it would not otherwise take," the court document states. 

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which defended the program on behalf of a group of DACA recipients, had argued Obama had the authority to institute DACA and that the states lacked the standing to sue because they had not suffered any harm due to the program.

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Hanen had rejected Texas’ request in 2018 to stop the program through a preliminary injunction. But in a foreshadowing of his latest ruling, Hanen said in 2018 that he believed DACA as enacted was likely unconstitutional.

"If the nation truly wants to have a DACA program, it is up to Congress to say so," Hanen wrote then.

The Department of Homeland Security is also permitted to continue accepting new DACA applications as well as application renewals for current recipients, but is prevented from approving those applications under the judge’s order. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.