SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Ninth Circuit on Thursday upheld a nationwide injunction blocking the Trump administration from ending a program that shields some 700,000 young immigrants from deportation.
Writing for the Ninth Circuit panel, U.S. Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw found the Trump administration based its decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on a faulty legal premise: that the program was enacted illegally from the start.
The panel concluded prioritizing the enforcement of immigration laws, including through a wide-scale program like DACA, is well within the power of the executive branch.
“The reality is (and always has been) that the executive agencies charged with immigration enforcement do not have the resources required to deport every single person present in this country without authorization,” Wardlaw wrote in the 99-page opinion.
Enacted in 2012, the Obama-era DACA program allows immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 to apply for protection from deportation. It also gives those individuals, nicknamed Dreamers, the right to live and work legally in the United States.
Wardlaw wrote such programs enable authorities to “devote much needed resources” to going after national security threats, “rather than blameless and economically productive young people with clean criminal records.”
Speaking at a press conference in Sacramento, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called the ruling “a tremendous victory for people who believe in the American Dream.”
Home to 200,000 Dreamers, California is one of four states that challenged the decision to end DACA. Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, the University of California system, the city of San Jose, Santa Clara County, Service Employees International Union Local 521, and individual Dreamers also sued to stop the DACA rollback.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued the preliminary injunction in January, finding the allegedly arbitrary and capricious termination of DACA would cause irreparable harm to Dreamers, their families, and the nation’s economy.
Alsup’s injunction is one of three court orders issued by judges in San Francisco, Los Angeles and the District of Columbia blocking the Trump administration from ending the DACA program. In August, a federal judge in Texas also denied the Lone Star state’s request for an injunction to dismantle the DACA program, finding Texas waited too long to sue after DACA became the status quo.
The DACA program was set to expire this past March, after the Trump administration announced plans to wind down the program in September 2017.
More than 187,000 immigrants have renewed their DACA status since the injunction was issued on Jan. 9, according to the U.S. government’s latest quarterly report.
The federal government is not obligated to process new applications for those not previously enrolled in DACA, nor is it obligated to grant DACA recipients advanced parole, which allows immigrants to re-enter the U.S. after traveling abroad.
U.S. Circuit Judge John Owens partly dissented from the panel’s ruling, finding the executive branch has broad authority to decide how to enforce immigration laws and that such decisions are not reviewable by courts regarding allegations of violating administrative process laws.
However, Owens found claims that the termination of DACA violated Dreamers’ rights to equal protection under the law appear to have merit. Owens would have let the injunction stand and remanded the case back to Alsup’s court to consider whether equal protection claims are likely to succeed on the merits.
In her opinion, Wardlaw cited the case of one named plaintiff and DACA recipient, Dulce Garcia of San Diego, who excelled at school and put herself through college, despite being homeless for a time as a child. Garcia used a scholarship and her mother’s life savings to achieve her dream of attending law school and becoming a lawyer.
“Whether Dulce Garcia and the hundreds of thousands of other young dreamers like her may continue to live productively in the only country they have ever known is, ultimately, a choice for the political branches of our constitutional government,” Wardlaw wrote. “With the power to make that choice, however, must come accountability for the consequences.”
U.S. Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen rounded out the panel.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision come just two days after the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the case, arguing the slow pace of the appeal process would cause “untenable and unnecessary delay” in ending the policy.
The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday morning.
In a letter to the Ninth Circuit last month, the government complained that the injunction “requires the government to indefinitely tolerate – and, indeed, affirmatively sanction – an ongoing violation of federal law being committed by nearly 700,000 aliens pursuant to the DACA policy.”