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Federal judge orders Trump administration to restore DACA

The order requires the acceptance of new applications for the first time in more than two years

Dreamers and DACA supporters rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in June 18, after the court rejected the Trump administration’s push to end the Obama-era program.
Dreamers and DACA supporters rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in June 18, after the court rejected the Trump administration’s push to end the Obama-era program. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Homeland Security Department will have to reopen applications for an Obama-era program that protects children brought to the U.S. illegally from deportation under an order issued Friday by a New York federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis built his order on a previous ruling that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was not lawfully appointed when he shook up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in July with a memorandum that rejected any new applications.

The agency will now have to accept new applications for deferred action work permits to undocumented immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, Garaufis said.

The order also forces DHS to extend previously granted work permits from one year to two, as the program originally allowed, and produce a report about the impacts the illegally-issued changes had on applicants. 

Garaufis noted that “under normal circumstances,” it would be enough to vacate the changes Wolf made to DACA with his July memorandum. Noting the impact it had on the plaintiffs in the case, he took the steps beyond simply throwing out the memorandum.

DHS will have to advertise the application process by Monday and reach out to people affected by the shutdown of the DACA process.

In November, Garaufis ruled that Wolf was not lawfully appointed as DHS chief because the previous acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan, was himself not lawfully appointed to the role. Homeland Security has gone without a permanent secretary since Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in 2019.

Garaufis also wrote that attempts by DHS to reinstate Wolf through a procedure using Peter Gaynor, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and then reissue the memorandum “have no legal significance” and are “dead letter.”

“Neither Administrator [Peter] Gaynor nor Mr. Wolf currently possesses, nor have they ever possessed, the powers of the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security,” Garaufis wrote.

Wolf’s nomination to become permanent head of the agency — at least until the end of the Trump administration — is currently pending before the Senate.

A call to DHS seeking comment late Friday was not immediately returned.

The Obama administration created the deferred action program, allowing nearly 700,000 immigrants known as “Dreamers” to live and work in the United States.

President Donald Trump tried to end the program shortly after he took office in 2017, but the Supreme Court blocked the White House’s attempt this past June. Shortly afterward, Wolf issued the new DACA memo, stating that the government would review the program.

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to restore DACA during his first 100 days in office. On Friday, the incoming White House communications director, Kate Bedingfield, reinforced that pledge, saying that Biden planned to ask Congress to act quickly to grant citizenship to certain undocumented immigrants.

Immigration advocates celebrated the judicial order.

“The ruling is a huge victory for people who have been waiting to apply for DACA for the first time,” said Veronica Garcia, staff attorney at the Immigration Legal Resources Center.  “Wolf’s decision to suspend the program was just another attempt by the Trump administration to wield its extremely racist and anti-immigrant views and policies.” 

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