Demonstrators are seen outside the DNC before a march to the RNC to call on the Senate to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, which provides a path to citizenship to those with temporary protected status, on March 24. Indian American Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said: “As a proud immigrant and one of only two dozen naturalized citizens serving in Congress, I have always been crystal clear: Dreamers are Americans and Dreamers are home.” (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Immigrants and advocates are urging Democrats and President Joe Biden to quickly act on legislation to protect young immigrants after a federal judge in Texas July 19 ruled illegal an Obama-era program that prevents the deportation of thousands of them brought into the U.S. as children.

Plaintiffs have vowed to appeal the decision by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who declared the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program illegal, barring the government from approving any new applications, but leaving the program intact for existing recipients.

India-West adds: Vice President Kamala Harris, a strong advocate for the program, immediately tweeted: “To all the Dreamers out there experiencing fear and uncertainty, know that President Joe Biden and I believe strongly that your home is America. You deserve a permanent solution. Through reconciliation or other means, the time is now for Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship.”

Calling the ruling a “blaring siren” for Democrats, United We Dream executive director Greisa Martinez Rosas said they would be solely to blame if legislative reform doesn’t happen.

“Until the president and Democrats in Congress deliver on citizenship, the lives of millions will remain on the line,” Martinez Rosas said.

Hanen ruled in favor of Texas and eight other conservative states that sued to halt DACA, which provides limited protections to about 650,000 people.

The program has faced a roller coaster of court challenges since former President Barack Obama instituted it in June 2012. The Trump administration announced it was ending the program in September 2017, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the administration hadn’t ended the program properly, keeping it alive once more.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a statement July 19 evening, vowed that Democrats will continue to push for passage of the DREAM Act, and called on Republicans “to join us in respecting the will of the American people and the law, to ensure that Dreamers have a permanent path to citizenship.”

In the ruling, Hanen wrote that the states proved “the hardship that the continued operation of DACA has inflicted on them.”

He continued: “Furthermore, the government has no legitimate interest in the continuation of an illegally implemented program.”

Biden has already proposed legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without authorization. He also ordered agencies to make efforts to preserve the program.

Supporters of DACA, including those who argued before Hanen to save it, have said a law passed by Congress is necessary to provide permanent relief. Hanen has said Congress must act if the U.S. wants to provide the protections in DACA to recipients commonly known as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act.

The House approved legislation in March creating a pathway toward citizenship for “Dreamers,” but the measure has stalled in the Senate. Immigration advocates hope to include a provision opening that citizenship doorway in sweeping budget legislation Democrats want to approve this year, but it’s unclear whether that language will survive.

Suing alongside Texas were Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia — states that all had Republican governors or state attorneys general.

They argued that Obama didn’t have the authority to create DACA because it circumvented Congress. The states also argued that the program drains their educational and healthcare resources.

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

Thomas Saenz, president of MALDEF, said July 16 that plaintiffs will file an appeal.

“Today’s decision then once more emphasizes how critically important it is that the Congress step up to reflect the will of a supermajority of citizens and voters in this country. That will is to see DACA recipients and other young immigrants similarly situated receive legislative action that will grant them a pathway to permanence and citizenship in our country,” Saenz said.

Hanen rejected Texas’ request in 2018 to stop the program through a preliminary injunction. But in a foreshadowing of his latest ruling, he said he believed DACA as enacted was likely unconstitutional without congressional approval.

Hanen ruled in 2015 that Obama could not expand DACA protections or institute a program shielding their parents.

While DACA is often described as a program for young immigrants, many recipients have lived in the U.S. for a decade or longer after being brought into the country without permission or overstaying visas. The liberal Center for American Progress says roughly 254,000 children have at least one parent relying on DACA. Some recipients are grandparents.

Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a progressive organization, expressed disappointment at Friday’s ruling, saying in a statement that DACA has been a big success that has transformed many lives.

“Today makes absolutely clear: only a permanent legislative solution passed by Congress will eliminate the fear and uncertainty that DACA recipients have been forced to live with for years. We call on each and every elected office to do everything within their power so that DACA recipients and their families and communities can live free from fear, and continue to build their lives here,” Schulte said.

India-West adds: Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, slammed Hanen’s ruling.

“As a proud immigrant and one of only two dozen naturalized citizens serving in Congress, I have always been crystal clear: Dreamers are Americans and Dreamers are home,” she said in a statement.

“Today’s cruel ruling does not change that; it only underscores the urgency behind permanently protecting Dreamers. Doing so will not only benefit the more than 800,000 people eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but all of America,” said the Indian American congresswoman.

“As we aggressively fight this misguided ruling in the courts, we must also act quickly in Congress. We must use our governing majority to humanely reform the entire immigration system so this type of uncertainty, cruelty, and harm ends for good while restoring America’s place as a beacon of hope around the world,” she said.

President Joe Biden issued a statement July 17. “Yesterday’s federal court ruling is deeply disappointing. While the court’s order does not now affect current DACA recipients, this decision nonetheless relegates hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to an uncertain future. The Department of Justice intends to appeal this decision in order to preserve and fortify DACA. And, as the court recognized, the Department of Homeland Security plans to issue a proposed rule concerning DACA in the near future.”

“But only Congress can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve. I have repeatedly called on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, and I now renew that call with the greatest urgency. It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.”

(Galvan reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Lou Kesten in Washington, D.C., and Juan Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.)

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