Decision prohibits new applicants to the Obama-era immigration program
A federal appeals court on Wednesday, Oct. 5 ruled in favor of a lower court’s 2021 ruling that found an Obama-era immigration program unlawful but allowed the hundreds of thousands of recipients the option to renew their DACA status.
The decision concerns the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which former President Barack Obama created in 2012 to provide temporary benefits and protections to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
In short, the Wednesday decision — made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit — did not change the current status of DACA, but rather left its future hanging in the balance.
The new rule barring new applicants takes effect on Oct. 31.
As of 2022, the average age of a DACA recipient is 28 years old, and there are currently more than 611,000 individuals enrolled in DACA. Though DACA recipients are diverse, a vast majority hail from South America and Asia. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), about 3,880 Filipinos are active recipients of DACA.
For years, DACA has remained a controversial topic. Conservatives and anti-immigration groups argue that the government shouldn’t grant undocumented immigrants benefits and protections — even if they were brought to the U.S. as small children. Democrats have been fighting to preserve DACA, especially after former President Donald Trump unsuccessfully tried to terminate the program in 2017.
However, immigrant rights groups have argued that the issue goes beyond DACA, which is a temporary protections program, and that the White House and Congress ought to prioritize permanent solutions for undocumented individuals.
“It is beyond time for Congress and Biden to act on their promises to secure permanent protections for Dreamers, including a pathway to citizenship for all,” Families Belong Together, an immigrant rights group, said in a statement, referencing the never-passed DREAM Act that would have guaranteed a pathway to citizenship.
The lower court ruling was made in July 2021 by Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas, which ruled DACA “unlawful” and barred new applications for the program; the order, however, allowed for renewals for existing DACA beneficiaries.
Texas wasn’t the only state claiming that DACA was a financial burden; Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia — all staunchly conservative states — joined Texas in its lawsuit against DACA in 2018.
Advocates for DACA — including the Biden Administration — argue that without the program, healthcare costs would increase for undocumented immigrants and their families, a point that the appeals court acknowledged in their ruling.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote that without DACA, the cost of healthcare in Texas “would increase for [undocumented individuals] who remain in Texas, because they would lose their jobs and employer-based health insurance and would rely more on emergency Medicaid.”
But the ruling continues, “That may be, but these estimates do not account for the cost savings — healthcare and educational — from others’ departure. Texas would no longer be required to educate those who depart or the children who depart with them.”
In July arguments, the Biden administration, through the U.S. Justice Department, defended DACA along with multiple immigrant groups, the state of New Jersey and dozens of corporations — including Amazon, Apple, and Google — who all argued that DACA recipients have served as a reliable workforce that continues to stimulate the economy.