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Biden administration urges judge to allow latest ‘Dreamers’ rule

The Justice Department is fighting to protect the program in a court challenge brought in Texas by a group of Republican-led states

Demonstrators march in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program outside the Capitol in November.
Demonstrators march in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program outside the Capitol in November. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Biden administration has urged a Texas federal judge to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in a case that threatens protections for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.

The Justice Department argued Thursday that the administration’s latest version of the DACA program, which provides work permits and deportation relief for certain immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors, is a legal use of the government’s authority to decide which undocumented immigrants to prioritize for deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security’s “resources are limited,” which requires the government to reduce the priority for undocumented immigrants who have strong ties to the country, including those who were brought as children and “have never known another country as home,” the DOJ wrote in a court filing.

“DACA is carefully designed to address a difficult National problem involving severe resource constraints and significant humanitarian and policy concerns,” the government said.

The Justice Department is fighting to protect DACA against a court challenge by a group of Republican-led states that argue they face financial costs for housing and employing recipients of the program, known as “Dreamers.”

Judge Andrew Hanen of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas previously ruled against the Obama administration’s version of the program but left the policy in place for current recipients. But while the government’s appeal was pending, DHS put the program through the formal regulatory process and published a formal rule to address some of Hanen’s concerns about how the immigration program was issued.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit backed Hanen’s earlier ruling but did not review the latest version of the policy, so it sent the case back to Hanen to consider.

In a court filing in January, the Republican states asked Hanen, again, to strike down the latest version of DACA. They argued that while the Biden administration’s new rule “remedies the procedural defects of the DACA Memorandum, it suffers from the same substantive flaws.”

The states also asked the judge to issue a ruling that would block the government from approving new DACA requests, as well as prevent the government from approving renewal requests from current recipients after two years.

In Thursday’s brief, the government asked that, if Hanen does rule in favor of the states, he allow DHS to wind down the program at its own pace, and that if he must impose a time frame, that he set one “substantially longer” than two years.

The DOJ also asked Hanen to limit his ruling to apply only in states that have proved they were harmed by the DACA program, which would allow individuals living in other states to continue to qualify for protections.

While the DACA program remains under court threat, congressional Democrats face an uphill battle to pass legislation codifying protections for “Dreamers” in a divided Congress. Republicans, who control the House, have signaled they would be unwilling to consider protecting “Dreamers” until they have secured more border security funding and restrictions.

At Democrats’ conference earlier on Thursday, caucus chair Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said he was “not optimistic about this Congress” reaching a bipartisan immigration deal “because any Republican who supports any type of reform gets tabooed.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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