BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Justice Department likely flouted the law in abruptly rescinding an Obama-era program that afforded qualifying young immigrants with certain protections.
“Defendants indisputably can end the DACA program,” U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis wrote, using an abbreviation for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “Nothing in the Constitution or the Immigration and Nationality Act requires immigration authorities to grant deferred action or work authorization to individuals without lawful immigration status.
“The question before the court is thus not whether defendants could end the DACA program,” Garaufis added, “but whether they offered legally adequate reasons for doing so. Based on its review of the record before it, the court concludes that defendants have not done so.”
Led by immigration advocates and a group of 16 state attorneys general, the case in Brooklyn was one of several brought around the country when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the rollback of DACA in September.
Garaufis said the government’s stated reason for terminating DACA “was erroneous,” noting that the premise that a previous related program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, had constitutional defects is “flatly incorrect.”
Garaufis also called the government’s actions and language “contradictory,” questioning why they would opt to “wind down” a program they believed was unconstitutional.
DACA beneficiary Martin Batalla Vidal is the lead plaintiff in this case, joined by Make the Road New York, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School.
Though Garaufis declined to certify the challengers as a class, he did take seriously the effects of the DACA program.
“Allowing the DACA rescission to take immediate effect would quickly cost many DACA recipients the opportunity to work legally in this country, and hence to support themselves and their families,” the 55-page opinion states.
Garaufis said that an injunction would “preserve the status quo … rather than allowing severe social dislocations to unfold based on an agency decision that … strongly appears to have been arbitrary and capricious.”
“The public interest is not served by allowing defendants to proceed with arbitrary and capricious action,” Garaufis added.
Garaufis also made clear “what this order is not.” He clarified that the order did not state the rescission of DACA was unlawful and that they could still drop the program. The government does not have to grant renewal requests or particular applications from DACA hopefuls, and can still revoke work authorization and deferred action.
The relief granted by Garaufis is similar to a January ruling from U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco. Alsup ordered the federal government to revive DACA, finding the decision to terminate it was likely based on a “flawed legal premise” that the program was enacted illegally by the Obama administration and that it would not survive a challenge in court.
Both Alsup and Garaufis deemed rhetoric by the president as worthy of consideration in their decisions.
Alsup found the plaintiffs plausibly alleged that “racial animus towards Mexicans and Latinos was a motivating factor” in nixing DACA.
In a Jan. 30 hearing in Brooklyn, Garaufis noted that Trump’s remarks on the campaign trail and on Twitter could be “construed as having confirmed the bias of the leadership.”
DACA has become a sticking point on Capitol Hill as lawmakers work on passing a budget, but the latest bill did not include any mentions of the program beneficiaries, whose nickname Dreamers comes from a prior proposed legislation called the Dream Act.
It’s unclear how Garaufis’ ruling will affect proceedings in the U.S. Supreme Court, which returns to conference Friday after a brief recess.
Skipping input from the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court has already opted to hold a hearing on Alsup’s DACA ruling.