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Texas judge hears arguments in challenge to revised DACA policy

A Texas judge who ruled two years ago against the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program heard oral arguments on Thursday in a high-stakes challenge to a revised version of the policy.

The Biden administration has been fighting in court for years to protect the decade-old, Obama-era program, which shields from deportation some 600,000 immigrants, known as Dreamers.

In New York, there are an estimated 24,000 DACA recipients. Dreamers are immigrants who came to the U.S. before they turned 16 and have lived continuously in the country since June 2007.

In 2021, Judge Andrew Hanen found in federal court in Texas that former President Barack Obama had overstepped his authority with the program. At the time, the judge barred the acceptance of new DACA enrollment applications.

Now, after an appeals court affirmed the federal judge’s ruling last year, a slightly modified version of DACA is headed back to Hanen.

“DACA has been under legal threat now for most of its history,” said Michael Kagan, an immigration law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “But there’s actually never really been a definitive case about: Is DACA legal?”

The current case, which could eventually wind up at the Supreme Court, may answer that question. Hanen, who is hearing the challenge to DACA from nine states, is seen as likely hostile to the tweaked program.

DACA supporters rallied outside Houston Federal Court.

It is not clear when Hanen might issue a ruling. But a preliminary step toward the death of protections for the Dreamers is on the table, Kagan said.

“It’s a devastating possibility,” the professor said Thursday. “Today is a frightening day for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Monica Rodriguez-Aguilera, a 33-year-old Staten Island resident and DACA recipient, said court challenges to DACA have left her feeling like the foundations of her life in America are unstable.

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty,” said Rodriguez-Aguilera, who moved to the U.S. when she was 6. “There’s alway that possibility that DACA will be struck down — and so, at the end, all of our efforts and all of our hard work will have come to nothing.”

More than 50 DACA supporters gathered at a park near Houston Federal Court, The Associated Press reported. Images and videos on social media appeared to show fired-up immigrants chanting and carrying signs ahead of the hearing.

Sen. Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, issued a statement of support for the Dreamers. “America is their home, and they deserve a pathway to citizenship — not threats of deportation,” she tweeted.

The states challenging DACA are Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

In a 5-to-4 decision in 2020, the Supreme Court quashed a bid by former President Donald Trump to dismantle DACA. But the ruling came on procedural lines and did not seem to secure DACA against future challenges.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell University, predicted that if the Texas case makes it to the Supreme Court, the court would not issue a final ruling before June 2025.

“Litigation takes time,” he said. “No one should worry that the DACA program is going to end tomorrow.”

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