Political News

DACA: Appeals court weighs Trump administration's authority

Posted January 25, 2019 12:48 p.m. EST

— A three-judge federal appeals panel on Friday grappled with what authority the Trump administration has and doesn't have to terminate the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The hearing in the 2nd US District Court of Appeals, centered around how the administration moved to end DACA, not the legality of the DACA program itself.

Judge Dennis Jacobs asked lawyers representing the plaintiffs whether they believed the Department of Homeland Security Secretary has the authority to end the program which protects from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children.

"Why can't it be undone by a memo?," Jacobs asked Anisha Dasgupta, who's representing the state of New York.

"It could," she responded, adding that at issue is the reasoning for the termination.

The administration argued that it was within its rights to end the program. Justice Department attorney Mark Stern repeatedly defended the decision as a matter of "prosecutorial discretion."

"This is a quintessential exercise in enforcement discretion," he said.

The plaintiffs in the case include DACA recipients in New York and 16 state attorneys general, led by New York.

Last February, District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis issued a nationwide injunction requiring that the administration continue to allow beneficiaries to apply for renewal, becoming the second federal judge at the time to intervene in the attempt to cease the program.

The Trump administration announced the end of DACA in September 2017, arguing that it was created "without proper statutory authority." Protections under that plan would have begun to end March 2018. Federal judges, however, have kept the program alive, taking issue with the reasoning for the sudden termination of protections.

The Justice Department has previously asked the Supreme Court to intervene, but to no avail. The high court has still not said whether it would take up the case, providing some reprieve to the program's beneficiaries who can continue to apply for renewal.

The significance of the case is not been lost on the plaintiffs.

"For me personally, my whole livelihood is on the line," said Eliana Fernandez, a DACA recipient and plaintiff on the case. "Because of DACA, I attended college, I'm attending grad school, I'm a homeowner." Without it, she said, she wouldn't be able to support her life.

Antonio Alarcon joined the lawsuit because "it was the right thing" to do, but he still worries about the possibility that it's made him vulnerable to the government. "I feel like the government has me as a target because I'm part of the lawsuit."

Some 700,000 recipients are currently enrolled in the DACA program. While recipients have continued to apply for renewal, the number of recipients have dropped, according to the Center for American Progress: from 704,000 in July 2018 to 687,000 as of December 2018.

The administration recently included extending temporary protections for DACA recipients in a proposal to fund Trump's border wall and intend the government shutdown. The bill was rejected in the Senate Thursday.