DACA Gets Its Day in Court

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration’s case to end a program that protects almost 700,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation comes before a federal appeals court in New York on Friday, with the “Dreamers” a potential bargaining chip in the shutdown endgame between Democrats and the president.

At issue is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which shields people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Democrats want a deal on the Dreamers, and President Donald Trump has used the court battle to delay it. As the partial government shutdown enters its 35th day, DACA is again front and center.

Key Insights

  • The Second Circuit Court of Appeals will decide whether the U.S. decision to terminate DACA violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis has blocked Trump from ending DACA and allowed lawsuits against the U.S. to continue. He cited “racially charged language” from the president as creating a “plausible inference” that the decision to end DACA was aimed at Latinos and in particular at Mexicans.
  • The Justice Department claims there is no evidence of bias and asked Garaufis to dismiss the lawsuits. Not only did the judge lack the authority to make such a ruling, the DOJ argues, but DACA, created in 2012 by then president Barack Obama’s executive order, was an unlawful circumvention of Congress to begin with. The U.S. argues Trump was within his authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner.
  • The New York appeal is just one of several across the country, increasing the likelihood the issue will come before the Supreme Court. Federal appeals courts are reviewing separate decisions by judges in San Francisco and Washington that halted Trump’s efforts to rescind the program.
  • Democrats have sought to protect DACA recipients by offering concessions on funding for U.S.-Mexico border security. The Second Circuit is likely to rule after the partial government shutdown ends, but if it and other courts uphold Trump’s action, the president may have more leverage in the broader political fight raging over immigration reform.
  • The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to take the unusual step of bypassing federal appeals courts and resolving the DACA litigation directly. The court last week declined to take action on that request. That suggests the program may stay in place at least until the end of the year.


  • DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to apply for renewable, two-year permits that allow them to work legally. DACA recipients must have no significant criminal record and be enrolled in high school or have a diploma or the equivalent. DACA doesn’t provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship -- one of the key negotiating points on Capitol Hill.
  • The plaintiffs, a coalition of 16 states, including New York, and the District of Columbia, cited statements Trump made during his campaign describing undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “bad hombres” to show unlawful racial animus, especially against Mexicans, who make up about 78 percent of the program.
  • A federal judge in San Francisco was the first to rule on DACA, in January 2018, rejecting the government’s argument that the courts can’t review the matter.
  • Trump and Congress remain deadlocked over whether to preserve, modify or phase out the program as part of an effort to end the shutdown. Democrats have refused to negotiate on immigration reform, from DACA to the president’s border wall, until Republicans agree to reopen the government.
  • The appeal also pertains to Martin Batalla Vidal, a Queens student brought to the U.S. from Mexico at age six, who is challenging the withdrawal of his work permit.

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Get Down to Cases

  • 18-485, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (New York)
  • UC Regents v. USDHS, 18-15068, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco)
  • Trustees of Princeton University v. U.S., 17-cv-2325, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington)

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