It would be hard to find many federal judges more sympathetic to the Trump administration’s immigration policies than Andrew Hanen, a Republican appointee who sits in Brownsville, Texas, on the border with Mexico. From that outpost of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Hanen fulminated against what he saw as the Obama administration’s lax enforcement policies and, in 2015, blocked its effort to shield from deportation millions of undocumented immigrants, including parents of U.S. citizens and other legal residents.
Still, even for Hanen it was too much, and too destructive, to yank similar but existing protections from “dreamers” – young migrants brought to this country by their parents and granted temporary lawful status and work permits in 2012 by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. In an Aug. 31 ruling that surprised that policy’s advocates and foes alike, Hanen refused a request from nine states, led by Texas, that he halt DACA, a move that would upend the jobs, educations and lives of nearly 700,000 teens, 20- and 30-somethings who have grown up in this country and share every attribute of Americanness save proof of citizenship.
The judge left no doubt that he thinks DACA contradicts statutory and administrative law. The program, he wrote, is “basically identical” to the sound-alike DAPA – Deferred Action for Parents of Americans – which Hanen blocked shortly after it was proposed by the Obama administration. The difference, he noted, is that unlike that more expansive proposal, DACA was implemented and has now been in effect for six years. That’s six years during which people who had no say in how they entered this country lived lives as rooted in the United States as Hanen’s own.
“Here, the egg has been scrambled,” the judge wrote, indisputably. “To try to put it back in its shell . . . does not make sense nor serve the best interests of this country.”
Hanen believes the program, which the Trump administration moved to rescind a year ago, will ultimately collapse under further judicial scrutiny, perhaps in the Supreme Court itself; his opinion may even have hastened that outcome. Ultimately, he said, the solution lies with Congress, where attempts to resurrect DACA, or something more permanent, have been defeated by the broader impasse over immigration policy.
Despite his hawkish rulings on previous immigration cases, the judge wrote that he agreed with a federal court in Maryland that said the question of whether to allow DACA recipients to “continue contributing their skills and abilities to the betterment of this country is an issue crying out for a legislative solution.” If that is the case, let’s hope public opinion will force Congress’ hand, as it forced President Donald Trump to scrap his cruel policy mandating the separation of families.