Judge in DACA Case Zeroes In on Bigoted Trump Statements

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A federal judge who blocked the rollback of former President Barack Obama’s signature immigration program chided the government Thursday for what he described as a remarkable attempt to exclude consideration of President Donald Trump’s comments on the case.

Though he pared some claims from the lawsuit, which has already been amended three times, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said the challengers have alleged sufficient facts at this stage to infer that racial animus substantially motivated Trump’s rescission of the program Deferred Action for Childhood Enrollment, which provided some limited assurance that they would not be deported.

Looking at the statistics alone, Garaufis noted, it is easy to conclude that Latinos, especially Mexicans, would be disproportionately harmed by DACA’s termination.

While 93 percent of DACA recipients originated from Latin America as a whole, a full 78 percent of DACA recipients are Mexican nationals.

“To establish discriminatory purpose,” the 33-page ruling continues, “plaintiffs identify a disheartening number of statements made by President Donald Trump that allegedly suggest that he is prejudiced against Latinos and, in particular, Mexicans.”

Recounting Trump’s mentions of “bad hombres” and “rapists” entering the United States from Mexico, Garaufis said the statements are “sufficiently racially charged, recurring, and troubling as to raise a plausible inference that the decision to end the DACA program was substantially motivated by discriminatory animus.”

“Although the use of racial slurs, epithets, or other racially charged language does not violate equal protection per se, it can be evidence that official action was motivated by unlawful discriminatory purposes.”

Whether these statements will be enough to prove the claim is another matter, Garaufis added, but he said there is “no authority holding that this rule does not apply simply because the speaker is, or is running to be, the president of the United States.”

Garaufis noted that the government focused not on defending the statements but on pushing the court to ignore them.

In trying to disconnect executive action from statements made on the campaign trail, Garaufis noted that the government has struck a chord.

But ultimately these arguments show only that the court should tread lightly, Garaufis said, not “bury its head in the sand when faced with overt expressions of prejudice.”

“At the very least,” Garaufis added, “one might reasonably infer that a candidate who makes overtly bigoted statements on the campaign trail might be more likely to engage in similarly bigoted action once in office.”

Garaufis balked meanwhile at the government’s attempt to lay blame for the DACA rollback decision on Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

Though he agreed the evidence is slim that Duke or Attorney General Jeff Sessions made few statements that “rise to an inference of discriminatory motive,” Garaufis called it “remarkable” for the government to argue that only Duke has the authority to end DACA, so Trump cannot be liable.

“If, as plaintiffs allege, President Trump himself directed the end of the DACA program, it would be surprising if his ‘discriminatory intent [could] effectively be laundered by being implemented by an agency under his control.’ As courts have recognized in far more mundane contexts, liability for discrimination will lie when a biased individual manipulates a non-biased decision-maker into taking discriminatory action.”

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