The Trump administration Tuesday night suffered a legal blow in its attempt to end a popular program that shielded from deportation people brought to the United States illegally as children by their parents.
But the victory may be short-lived.
U.S. District judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit by the State of California and others against the Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security over its decision in September to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that granted temporary legal status to about 800,000 people who entered the United States undocumented as minors. There are currently about 689,800 people enrolled in DACA, according to court documents.
There are about 200,000 Californians currently with the status, including an estimated 4,000 enrolled across the University of California system.
In his decision, Alsup said that he was issuing the order because California has “ shown a likelihood of success on their claim that the rescission was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or not otherwise in accordance with law.”
The order means the government must allow DACA recipients to renew their status. The government had stopped accepting renewal applications in September. However, the order doesn’t require federal immigration authorities to accept new applications, or to allow DACA recipients to travel abroad, which they were formerly able to do on a limited basis.
“Dreamers’ lives were thrown into chaos when the Trump Administration tried to terminate the DACA program without obeying the law,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a statement Tuesday night. “Tonight’s ruling is a huge step in the right direction.
“America is and has been home to Dreamers who courageously came forward, applied for DACA and did everything the federal government asked of them. They followed DACA’s rules, they succeeded in school, at work and in business, and they have contributed in building a better America. We will fight at every turn for their rights and opportunities so they may continue to contribute to America.”
In explaining the rationale for granting the reprieve to dreamers, Alsup — the judge — quoted a September tweet from Trump in support of DACA, in which the president wrote, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some servicing in the military? Really!”
Alsup used the president’s words to support the notion that public interest was best served by protecting the program, one of several requirements for the injunction.
Tuesday’s decision is part of an ongoing legal battle with larger underlying questions that will come to a head in coming weeks and could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The injunction stems from five lawsuits filed in California over DACA last fall, all of which were combined. Along with the suit filed by Becerra and attorneys general from California three other states, the University of California filed a suit, as did San Diego attorney Dulce Garcia, a Dreamer, and other private plaintiffs, for a total of five DACA lawsuits in San Francisco’s federal district court.
All the lawsuits claimed the Trump administration violated due process by granting legal status to Dreamers and then summarily canceling it.
The plaintiffs were handed their own setback late last year when the Supreme Court ruled that the California court may not even have the jurisdiction or the legal right to hear the case.
The issue wound up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court because Becerra and other plaintiffs charged that the government was withholding documents in the case that explained how then-acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke had make the decision to end DACA. The district court ordered the federal government to turn over more information, such as communications with the White House, emails and other materials reviewed by then-secretary Duke or prepared by subordinates for her.
Federal lawyers appealed the order to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but lost in a split decision by a three-judge panel.
But the government scored its own victory when it appealed the issue to the Supreme Court, which vacated part of the Ninth Circuit’s decision. The case bounced back to the district court to decide if the DACA decision was even reviewable by the courts, and if the lower court has jurisdiction.
Tuesday, after reviewing arguments from both sides, Alsup ruled his court did have jurisdiction and the DACA decision can be reviewed by courts – leading him to issue the injunction.
Federal lawyers have the right to immediately appeal that decision, which is likely. It would first go back to the Ninth Circuit, and could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court again.
The Justice Department “will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation,” said Department of Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley in a statement.
The “order doesn’t change the Department of Justice’s position on the facts: DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend these benefits to this same group of illegal aliens. As such, it was an unlawful circumvention of Congress. ... The Department of Homeland Security therefore acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner,” said O’Malley.
While Tuesday’s injunction was hailed by immigration advocates, many tempered their response with a reminder that permanent legal status was the end goal for dreamers, not an extension of temporary status.
“Although the recent announcement on DACA may seem like a step in the right direction, let's not let it distract us from the fact that we need a permanent solution for DACA recipients, TPS holders, refugees, and the rest of the immigrant community that has been under attack by the administration." said Alondra Navez, Outreach Coordinator with the Inland Empire-Immigrant Youth Collective, a immigrant’s rights group.
In a Wednesday press conference, Becerra backed that notion.
“Quite honestly, with this particular court victory, which is only temporary, the real question now turns to the Congress and the president,” Becerra said. “Will they act?”