BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — Furious at the Department of Homeland Security for racing to extinguish an Obama-era program that defers the deportation of qualifying young immigrants, a federal judge slammed their deadline obstinance as “heartless” on Tuesday.
“You can’t come in here, into court, to espouse a position which is heartless,” U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis thundered at government attorneys.
Garaufis scheduled this afternoon’s hearing in Brooklyn for a pair of challenges leveled at the government after President Donald Trump announced a rollback of the DACA program, short for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, on Sept. 5.
Holding fast to a six-month timeline the government established to phase the program out, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brett Shumate told Garaufis on Tuesday that the department has no plans to extend an Oct. 5 deadline for DACA recipients to renew their status.
“That decision was not made lightly,” Shumate said at the hearing, emphasizing a refrain by the Trump administration of seeking an “orderly” end to the program.
“Ultimately,” Shumate added, “the department wants to maintain the Oct. 5 deadline, your honor.”
Dreamers, as recipients of the DACA program are known, must reapply to the program every two years.
More than 200,000 people are set to have their benefits expire in 2017, and another 275,000 will see their benefits end the following year.
Garaufis emphasized that such figures barely scratch the surface.
“There aren’t only 800,000 people affected by what may happen here, there are literally millions,” Garaufis said.
Less than two weeks ago, Garaufis treated government attorneys to a similar tongue-lashing about how their sloppy shuttering of DACA will disrupt families around the country.
At the hearing, the judge read a post from Trump’s Twitter feed in court to demonstrate that the executive branch seemed to be having second thoughts about the phaseout.
“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” Trump asked in a Sept. 14 tweet. “Really!”
After Shumate claimed not to speak for the president, Garaufis snapped incredulously: “You are the executive branch. You work for the president. You don’t work for anyone else.”
Reminding the attorney that the United States is a democracy operating under a Constitution, Gafaufis concluded: “I am just glad that I was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and not Mexico City.”
Homeland Security statistics indicated that more than 55,000 DACA recipients whose benefits expire this year already submitted applications for renewal before the termination of DACA was announced on Sept. 5. Roughly 7,000 of those whose statuses will expire next year applied for renewal as well.
The Justice Department Civil Division attorney Stephen Pezzi remained vague as to when deportations might begin once the Department of Homeland Security ends the program March 5.
U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein, who is handling discovery, also grew impatient with what he saw as government evasions.
“Sir, it’s going to be much better if you answer the questions that I ask,” he told Pezzi at one point.
With the lawsuit moving forward quickly, Garaufis urged the government to be more cooperative.
“People need to work together,” Garaufis said. “They need to get with the program.”
Despite lacerating the government for refusing to move the deadline, Garaufis declined to order relief at this juncture.
Setting the stage for appellate review, the judge invited the immigrants who brought the case to file an emergency motion in conjunction with the Oct. 5 deadline.
Garaufis noted that he is timing the case to finish well before March 5, the date the Justice Department plans to end DACA – pending resolution of the issues by the legislative or executive branches.
Sending the Justice Department attorneys back to Washington, Garaufis gave both men a droll Big Apple kiss-off.
“Thank you for coming to New York,” the judge said. “It was nice to see you.”
National Immigration Law Center attorney Joseph Cox, who represents the Mexican-born Dreamer Martin Batalla Vidal, told reporters outside the courtroom that he thought the proceedings went well.
“We were heartened to see both judges – Judge Garaufis and Magistrate Judge Orenstein – take seriously the issues that this case raises,” Cox said.
One of his clients, Carlos Vargas, had the same takeaway.
“Today, the judge showed a human compassion, the human side of this case,” said Vargas, who wore a T-shirt from the immigration advocacy group Make the Road New York.
“And I think for me, as a DACA recipient, he showed regard for not only the 800,000 DACA recipients who are at risk of losing their status and being put in removal proceedings, but he also showed compassion to the community,” he added.
A coalition of 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, have joined the National Immigration Law Center to save DACA. They are Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
California filed its own challenge of the decision to end DACA earlier this month, six days after Trump order the program’s end. Maryland, Minnesota and Maine plan to join the Golden State’s lawsuit, which is following a similar timetable as the New York case.