LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal judge in Los Angeles granted a nationwide block on young immigrants being deported or losing their “Dreamer” protections for little to no reason in response to the Trump administration's announcement last year to wind down the DACA program.
The class action filed on behalf of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients by the American Civil Liberties Union stopped the federal government’s practice of terminating a DACA recipient’s status without notice based on allegations or a minor criminal history.
Approximately 800,000 young immigrants or “Dreamers” are protected from deportation and are able to work and go to school in the United States thanks to the DACA program. The program protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
The ACLU named the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection officials in their federal class action filed last year.
Lead plaintiff Jesús Alonso Arreola Robles, 23, says he was a cook at the famous Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood and working as a driver for Uber and Lyft when federal immigration agents arrested him in February 2017 while he was driving.
Arreola’s complaint says authorities accused him of smuggling a customer’s family members into the United States. He has been granted DACA status three times, in 2012, 2014 and again in 2016; he says he’d been working two jobs to support his parents – who are permanent residents – and had no criminal history.
The Inland Empire-Immigrant Youth Collective joined Arreola in the initial lawsuit.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez said before the hearing began that he was leaning toward granting the classwide injunction and class certification, despite objections from the federal government that it is too broad a class.
The court agreed that since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “automatically terminates DACA” according to its status when it issues a court summons, there will be additions in the future to the class. Because there will be future class members this satisfies a numerosity requirement, according to the court’s order.
The government said its actions involve an enforcement policy for those it deems a risk. But Arreola and the class say the government believes “enforcement policy” extends to every DACA recipient it issues a summons to, and that makes them eligible to be terminated from the program.
Jeffrey Robins, attorney for the Department of Justice, called the certification of a nationwide class an overreach. But Gutierrez asked Robins if the government’s action against Arreola was an enforcement policy and if he had been charged with a felony.
“You’re not wrong, there are no crimes that were charged,” said Robins.
Gutierrez said he was bewildered that there was no answer from law enforcement as to why someone like Arreola was a priority.
“What was the conduct?” Gutierrez asked.
Robins said the government believed there are facts to support the allegations, but those were not discussed in court on Monday. But government attorneys did say DACA is not a guarantee against deportation, which the court agreed was unclear.
Katrina Eiland, attorney with ACLU, said there are 22 people with claims worthy of being part of the class because they’ve been terminated from the DACA program. But there are likely more who have had their DACA status removed without due process that no one knows about, Eiland said.
“That’s just the tip of iceberg. The government has records showing all the individuals who have been terminated,” said Eiland.
“We saw this all around the country and what we also knew was it was a violation of the government’s own rules to terminate DACA without notice, without process, without giving the DACA recipient a chance to respond.”
Monday’s hearing in Gutierrez’s courtroom comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of President Donald Trump’s appeal of another federal judge’s order blocking the end of DACA. Trump had sought to hopscotch over the Ninth Circuit and get the case in front of the high court directly. The justices didn’t bite.
“It is assumed that the court of appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case,” the high court said in Monday’s brief order.
But Gabriela Melendez with the ACLU told the San Jose Mercury News Arreola’s case matters because injunctions currently in place and the Supreme Court’s decision to let the case take its course “does not mean much if the government can arbitrarily strip any immigrant’s DACA whenever it wants to, without even providing any explanation.”