BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — Hours after President Donald Trump lavished praise on young immigrants known as Dreamers, a federal judge questioned the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday about the Oct. 5 deadline looming for them to renew their status.
“It would be useful to take some of the pressure off the various parties, especially the very accomplished young people the president speaks of with such admiration,” U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said at a blockbuster hearing this afternoon in Brooklyn, N.Y.
What had been slated to be a mundane hearing to set a schedule for one Dreamer’s lawsuit challenging Trump’s rollback of a program to protect young immigrants from deportation took an explosive turn on Thursday, as a federal judge slammed the government for leaving thousands in limbo at a time that even Trump warmed up to their cause.
Garaufis had been referring to uncharacteristically pro-immigration rhetoric in which the “America First” president indulged on his Twitter feed earlier this morning.
“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” Trump tweeted today. “Really!”
Informing Justice Department attorneys that the post did not escape his notice, the judge said: “I do read the president’s tweets.”
Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
The Department of Homeland Security did not appear to get the message, so far refusing to retreat from a deadline three weeks from today that could leave hundreds of thousands vulnerable to deportation.
Democratic congressional leaders — Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer — announced late Wednesday evening that there is an agreement in place to let Dreamers stay in the country.
As Congress gears up to address the issue, Garaufis urged the government to provide breathing room for “800,000 people who are sweating that somebody will knock on their door and send them to a country they don’t even know and speak a language they don’t even speak.”
The judge noted that this well-publicized number does not account for the anxiety these “arbitrary deadlines” cause to their families and communities.
“They pay taxes,” he said. “They pay rents. They support their communities.”
One of those Dreamers, the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff Martin Batalla Vidal, sat in the courtroom during the proceedings, and he praised the judge for understanding the case’s human toll at a press conference following the hearing.
“He was able to see we also contribute to the economy and to the United States,” the Mexican-born Vidal said. “Like I said, it’s still going to be a long process. I’m confident that the Congress can come up with a law to help us.”
Primarily Democrats in the legislative branch, but also some Republicans, have been scrambling to craft a “clean” bill to replace former President Barack Obama’s signature immigration initiative: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA.
Aimed at protecting children brought to the United States by their parents, Obama rolled out the program by executive order.
Republicans have long argued that this exceeded Obama’s power, with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton mounting a successful challenge of the program in federal court.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions now contends that the program is unconstitutional.
The apparent contradiction between Justice Department’s position and its actions did not escape the notice of Judge Garaufis and his magistrate James Orenstein, who both presided over the hearing together on Thursday.
“You want to control how long you want to do something you believe to be unconstitutional?” Orenstein asked, furrowing his brows.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brett Shumate insisted there was no inconsistency.
“I think it would be a violation of the separation of powers,” he countered.
Shumate said that the government is taking postponement seriously, but he refused to make a commitment, even in the wake of hurricanes ripping through Florida and Texas, home to many Dreamers.
“Yes, they may seem arbitrary,” Schumate acknowledged, referring to the procedures for phasing out the program. “But these are decisions that are best left to the executive.”
The New York Daily News reported that former Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly had attended the dinner where Trump agreed to the deal with Schumer and Pelosi.
Trump cast doubt that there was an agreement the following morning.
Judge Garaufis expressed his preference not to wade into the dispute.
“That’s the court’s hope, that the court can stay out of this,” he said, referring to the future of the program.
Without issuing a ruling, Garaufis read the Department of Homeland Security the riot act.
“You’re going to tell me all about your discussion with your client and how cooperative your client will be to my suggestion,” the judge told the Justice Department.
The parties will return to court on Sept. 26 at 4 p.m.
Outside the courthouse, the National Immigration Law Center’s attorney Karen Tumlin told reporters that she would not take reports of a detente between the White House and congressional Democrats at face value.
“We’re calling on Congress and the president to make good on their tweets, and their talk, and their special deals, and to make sure that these young people and their families are here to stay, and they have nothing to fear,” she said.