BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A federal judge called out President Donald Trump’s “recurring, redundant drumbeat of anti-Latino commentary” on Tuesday at a hearing on the immigration program his administration abruptly terminated.
Noting that Trump’s remarks on the campaign trail and on Twitter could be “construed as having confirmed the bias of the leadership,” U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said the comments could come into play when he rules on the case.
Three immigration-advocacy groups brought the underlying challenge in Brooklyn last year after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the rollback of DACA. Short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the signature immigration initiative put in place by former President Barack Obama offers certain legal protections to qualifying young immigrants who might otherwise be at risk of deportation.
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.
At Tuesday’s 90-minute hearing in Brooklyn, the challengers were joined by a coalition of 16 state attorneys general.
They have asked Garaufis to block DACA’s termination across the country and for preliminarily enjoin the Justice Department from ending DACA.
With about 94 percent of all DACA recipients hailing from Mexico or Central or South America, Garaufis found Trump’s comments about immigrants from these countries highly relevant.
“This isn’t ordinary,” Garaufis told the full courtroom. “It’s extreme, it’s recurring, it’s vicious. It’s not what we see from our leaders, hopefully.”
An appointee of President Bill Clinton, Garaufis said he could not “wipe the slate clean and treat this like any other decision.”
“As an Article III judge, how do I do that without taking into account the commentary … by the person who sits in the Oval Office,” Garaufis asked.
Justice Department attorney Stephen Pezzi meanwhile argued Tuesday that “a preliminary injunction would be inappropriate.”
“I don’t think the plaintiffs can show irreparable harm that is actual or imminent,” Pezzi said, reminding the court that DACA was never intended to be a permanent solution.
“Had the Department [of Homeland Security] continued the program indefinitely,” he said, “that might raise some problems.”
Attorneys for the challengers emphasized the vast impact to New York and other parts of the country if the Justice Department rescinds DACA.
“Would this same decision have been made in the absence of discriminatory animus?” asked Assistant Attorney General Colleen Melody, representing Washington state.
Would it have been made if these immigrants were from Norway, Melody added, referencing recent reported comments by Trump about prioritizing immigration from countries “like Norway,” as opposed to Haiti and countries in Africa, which he is said to have described as “shitholes.”
Garaufis chimed in that, in his experience, most Norwegians he encountered were white.
Though the government’s rescission of DACA was blocked on Jan. 9 by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco, the Brooklyn challengers argued Tuesday that not all those protections extended to their clients.
They have requested a quick decision, but no date for a ruling has been set.
DACA’s rollback was seen as a sticking point earlier this month in Congress where budget negotiations led to a three-day government shutdown.
Democrats are reportedly bringing dozens of DACA recipients, who are often called DREAMers, tonight to the president’s State of the Union address.
DACA recipients in New York amped up the pressure as well after Tuesday’s hearing.
“We are urging the Congress to pass a clean Dream Act,” said plaintiff and DACA recipient Eliana Fernandez at a press conference outside the courthouse. “And as the president prepares himself today to give us the State of the Union, there’s no other place better to be than here at court.”