UPDATE: Catholic advocates decry federal judge's ruling declaring DACA unlawful

(OSV News) -- A federal judge declared unlawful a revised version of a program offering protection from deportation to unauthorized immigrants brought to the country as children. The decision was criticized by Catholic leaders, who have long expressed support for the decade-long program that has nearly 600,000 recipients.

In his Sept. 13 ruling, Texas-based U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen found that despite President Joe Biden's administration taking measures to strengthen the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the deficiencies that led him to find DACA unlawful in 2021 remain.

"While sympathetic to the predicament of DACA recipients and their families, this Court has expressed its concerns about the legality of the program for some time," Hanen wrote. "The solution for these deficiencies lies with the legislature, not the executive or judicial branches."

Anna Gallagher, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., or CLINIC, called the ruling "unjust and deeply upsetting." "DACA recipients are treasured members of our communities, places of worship, workplaces, and more," Gallagher said in a Sept. 14 statement. "In solidarity with DACA recipients and their loved ones, we will continue to advocate and pray for permanent legal protections and for a timely, moral resolution to this legal struggle."

First implemented in 2012, DACA allows certain migrant individuals brought to the United States as children without authorization -- commonly known as "Dreamers" although the term refers to DREAM Act proposals never enacted by Congress -- to be protected from deportation and be eligible to apply for work authorization.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data published at the end of March, the current DACA population included 578,680 recipients. DACA recipients must apply for renewal every two years.

With his decision, Hanen blocked new enrollments to the program but made clear that this would not affect DACA recipients enrolled before the judge's 2021 ruling.

"We are disappointed in the recent decision by the U.S. District Court regarding DACA," said Chieko Noguchi, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an email sent to OSV News. "Although the legal status quo remains unchanged for current DACA recipients while the case works its way through the courts, the U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for Congress to enact legal protections for Dreamers. We will continue to monitor the case as it moves through the judicial process."

In the lawsuit that brought about this ruling, Texas and eight other states asked for the program to be stopped and argued, among other claims, that former President Barack Obama -- who created the program by executive order -- did not have the authority to do so.

Hanen maintained that DACA is unlawful and that the rule violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how agencies make regulations. The Biden administration appealed the judge's original decision in July 2021.

In October 2022, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Hanen's 2021 ruling against DACA but asked him to review the new regulations published by the Department of Homeland Security. Hanen's Sept. 13 decision follows that judgment.

In response to the October 2022 decision, Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, then chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, issued a statement calling the development "troubling" and reaffirming "solidarity with the Dreamers of this country whose lives and futures once again hang in the balance."

He also called for a "permanent solution for all Dreamers out of respect for their God-given dignity."

"Dreamers are integral members of our communities. For many, the United States is the only home they know," he said Bishop Dorsonville, adding that these young people contribute to the welfare of the nation. "Until we have that (permanent) solution, each new challenge to the DACA program creates further uncertainty and anguish for hundreds of thousands of people and their families."

Even though the Biden version of DACA was declared illegal again, the judge's Sept. 13 ruling did not ask for any action that would affect current recipients. "To be clear, neither this order nor the accompanying supplemental injunction requires the DHS or the Department of Justice to take any immigration, deportation or criminal action against any DACA recipient, applicant, or any other individual that would otherwise not be taken," Hanen wrote.

The ruling is expected to be appealed by the Biden administration and the other defendants. It is likely the case will ultimately go to the U.S. Supreme Court -- which would mark the third time the program's fate is before the high court.

In a Sept. 13 statement decrying the judge's conclusion against DACA, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the federal government will continue to process DACA renewals "consistent with the ruling."

Although they live throughout the United States, DACA recipients are concentrated in states like California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

"We encourage communities to continue forward with their DACA renewals," said CLINIC's policy advocate Pedro Alemán Perfecto, adding he wanted to reassure recipients and their families that the program remains intact for current beneficiaries. "We will stand by DACA recipients for as long as it takes to achieve lasting justice."

- - - OSV News staff compiled this report.