Politics

Texas Judge To Hear Arguments In Case That Could Send DACA Battle To Supreme Court

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
  • Texas-based federal Judge Andrew Hanen will hear arguments in a major DACA lawsuit on Wednesday
  • The judge, who is thought to be skeptical of DACA’s legality, could issue an injunction that would temporarily halt the program
  • If Hanen issues an injunction, the Trump administration would face conflicting orders about whether to continue accepting DACA applications, leaving it up to the Supreme Court to sort out the legal mess

A Texas-based federal judge is set to hear arguments Wednesday in a case that could hand President Donald Trump a win in the ongoing legal battle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and put the program’s fate in the hand of the Supreme Court.

District Judge Andrew Hanen will preside over a hearing in a lawsuit brought by seven states against the federal government over DACA, the Obama-era program that shields younger illegal immigrants from deportation.

Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the lawsuit argues that DACA was an unconstitutional exercise of executive authority and asks for a nationwide injunction to halt the program. If Hanen grants the injunction, it would set the stage for him to make a ruling on the program’s constitutionality.

Hanen, a former President George W. Bush appointee, is widely known as an immigration hawk, and many legal observers expect him to issue the injunction. In previous rulings, Hanen blocked the Obama administration’s proposed expansion of DACA, as well as the creation of a similar amnesty for the illegal immigrant parents of children born in the U.S.

The Trump administration ended DACA in September under threat of legal action from Paxton, a Republican, and attorneys general in other conservative states. After a series of federal court decisions overturned Trump’s order and forced the administration to keep the program going, the Texas-led coalition of states sued the administration to force a court ruling on the constitutional merits.

The Trump administration’s position on DACA’s constitutionality mirrors that of the Texas-led coalition, so the Department of Justice has decided not to defend the program in Hanen’s court. The government has allowed immigration activist groups to step in and defend the program instead.

In a statement Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited Hanen’s previous rulings in arguing that creating DACA was outside the bounds of executive authority.

“The last administration violated its duty to enforce our immigration laws by directing and implementing a categorical, multipronged non-enforcement immigration policy for a massive group of illegal aliens,” Sessions said, adding that DACA “had been considered by Congress and rejected.”

If Hanen grants an injunction, it would put the Trump administration in the legally awkward position of administering DACA based on conflicting court rulings. Washington, D.C.-based federal Judge John Bates ordered the administration Friday to resume DACA renewals for all existing beneficiaries and to accept new applicants. (RELATED: Federal Judge Says Trump Must Fully Restart DACA Program)

Bates’ ruling followed two others by federal judges in New York and California that also required the government to start accepting renewal applications.

Conflicting rulings at the district court level make it more likely the Supreme Court will step in to sort out the discrepancy. However, the high court does not have to grant an emergency stay on any of the rulings — it can wait until competing parties have appealed their cases to circuit courts.

The Trump administration plans to appeal Bates’ ruling to the Washington, D.C., circuit court, Sessions said Monday.

“Promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens,” he said. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation.”

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