NEW ORLEANS - Immigrant advocates gathered at a federal appeals court in New Orleans on Wednesday in the hope of saving an Obama-era program that prevents the deportation of thousands of people brought into the U.S. as children.
A federal judge in Texas last year declared the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program illegal — although he agreed to leave the program intact for those already benefiting from it while his order is appealed.
Dozens of DACA proponents carried signs, beat drums and chanted in support of beneficiaries of the program prior to Wednesday’s hearing at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where judges heard arguments over whether the Texas judge’s ruling should be reversed or altered.
The U.S. Justice Department defended the program, allied with the state of New Jersey, advocacy organizations such as the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and a coalition of dozens of powerful corporations — including Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft — which argue that DACA recipients are "employees, consumers and job creators."
Texas, the lead plaintiff with eight other Republican-leaning states, argues that DACA was enacted without going through proper legal and administrative procedures, including public notice and comment periods. Additionally, the states argue that they are harmed financially by allowing immigrants to remain in the country illegally.
"DACA imposes classic pocketbook injuries on the States through social services, healthcare, and education costs," Texas attorneys argued in a brief, estimating that the state spends tens of millions of dollars on Medicaid services on those in the country illegally.
DACA proponents argue the state hasn’t proved that ending the program would decrease its costs. They argue that DACA is a policy that falls within federal authorities’ power to decide how best to spend finite enforcement resources and that Texas diminished its claims of financial injury by waiting six years to challenge the program. They also argue the state ignores evidence that DACA recipients decrease Texas’ costs because many of them hold jobs with health insurance benefits and many own homes and pay property taxes that support schools.
"Texas and the other states cannot point to an injury that is traceable to DACA," MALDEF attorney Nina Perales said at a news conference last week. "Without injury, there’s no jurisdiction for the federal courts to hear this case."
The damage to DACA recipients would be grave, immigrant advocates argued in one brief, exposing them to removal from the only country many of them have known and disrupting the lives of established families.
"Collectively, they are parents of over a quarter-million U.S. citizens, and 70% of DACA recipients have an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen," advocates stated in one brief.
DACA has faced numerous court challenges since then-President Barack Obama created it by executive order in 2012. Former President Donald Trump moved to end the program. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision determined that he had not done it properly, bringing it back to life and allowing for new applications. That was followed by the Texas-led lawsuit.
Assigned to hear arguments at the 5th Circuit were Chief Judge Priscilla Richman, an appointee of President George W. Bush; and two Trump appointees, judges James Ho and Kurt Engelhardt.