Federal judge restores DACA, orders DHS to accept first-time applications from immigrants

Undocumented and DACA-led organization Aliento gather to celebrate their organizers’ role in enfranchising youth and Latinx voters in Phoenix on Nov. 7, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Caitlin O’Hara

Thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children are immediately eligible to apply for an Obama-era program that grants them work permits, a federal judge in New York ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn said he was fully restoring the eight-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program to the days before the Trump administration tried to end it in September 2017. He ordered the Department of Homeland Security to post a public notice by Monday to accept first-time applications and ensure that work permits are valid for two years.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf had issued a memo in July reducing DACA recipients’ work permits to one year, but Garaufis ruled last month that Wolf had unlawfully ascended to the agency’s top job and vacated the memo.

“The court believes that these additional remedies are reasonable,” Garaufis said. “Indeed, the government has assured the court that a public notice along the lines described is forthcoming.”

Advocates for immigrants cheered the long-awaited ruling, though they have expected that President-elect Joe Biden will fully restore the DACA program as soon as he takes office in January, something he has pledged to do.

But the immigrants known as “dreamers” are not necessarily in the clear. Attorneys General in Texas and other states have asked a federal judge to declare DACA unlawful and to provide for an orderly wind down of it. A hearing in that case is scheduled for later this month.

Karen Tumlin, a lawyer for the immigrants in the case, cheered the New York judge’s ruling Friday. But she said the immigrants need Congress to pass a law that would grant them a firm path to citizenship.

“This is a day that DACA recipients and young people have waited for for far too long,” she said. “It’s a reminder, as always, that what we really need is a permanent solution.”

Approximately 640,000 immigrants are currently enrolled in the DACA program. The Center for American Progress, a think tank, estimates that at least 300,000 immigrants, including new high school graduates, have been shut out since the Trump administration stopped accepting new applications in September 2017 as part of an effort to phase out the program.

Another 65,800 immigrants had their work permits reduced to one year only.

DHS officials and officials with the Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the ruling Friday.

Biden was vice president when President Barack Obama, D, created the DACA program in 2012. Biden has called President Donald Trump’s efforts to end it “cruel.”

Under the rules, immigrants who cleared a background check, pursued their studies and paid fees to obtain work permits could stay in the United States. Trump has called the program an “illegal amnesty” and his administration fought to phase it out by this year.

Garaufis, appointed by President Bill Clinton, D, was one of the first federal judges to block Trump from ending DACA.

Biden also has said he would push for a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants. But getting a citizenship bill through what could be a Republican-held Senate will be difficult.



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