HOUSTON – Immigrants and advocates urge Democrats and President Joe Biden to act quickly on legislation to protect immigrant youth after a Texas federal judge on Friday declared an Obama-era program that prevents deportation from being illegal on Friday thousands of them brought to the United States as children.

The plaintiffs have vowed to appeal the ruling of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who declared the Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals illegal, barring the government from approving any new requests, but leaving the program untouched. for existing beneficiaries.

Calling the move a “howling siren” for Democrats, United We Dream executive director Greisa Martinez Rosas said they would be alone to blame if law reform did not take place.

“Until the President and Congressional Democrats grant citizenship, the lives of millions of people will be on the line,” Martinez Rosas said.

Hanen ruled in favor of Texas and eight other conservative states that have sued the DACA ruling, which offers protections limited to about 650,000 people.

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The program has faced a roller coaster of legal challenges since former President Barack Obama instituted it in June 2012. The Trump administration announced it was ending the program in September 2017, but the The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the administration had not terminated the program properly, keeping it alive again.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement Friday night vowed Democrats will continue to push for passage of the DREAM Act and called on Republicans “to join us in respecting the will of the American people. and the law, to ensure that dreamers have a permanent path to citizenship.

In Friday’s decision, Hanen wrote that states have proven “the hardship that the continued operation of DACA has placed on them.”

He continued, “Moreover, the government has no legitimate interest in pursuing an illegally implemented program. “

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Biden has already proposed legislation that pave the way to citizenship for the roughly 11 million people living in the United States without permission. He also ordered agencies to make efforts to preserve the program.

DACA supporters, including those who pleaded with Hanen to save her, said a law passed by Congress was needed to provide permanent relief. Hanen said Congress must act if the United States is to provide DACA protections to recipients commonly referred to as “dreamers,” based on proposals never passed in Congress called the DREAM Act.

The House approved a law in March creating a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” but the measure has stalled in the Senate. Immigration advocates hope to include a provision opening that gate to citizenship in the broad budget legislation Democrats want to approve this year, but it’s not clear whether the language will survive.

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Along with Texas were Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia – states that all had Republican governors or state attorneys general. .

They argued that Obama did not have the power to create the DACA because it bypassed Congress. States have also argued that the program drains their education and health resources.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New Jersey attorney general’s office, which defended the program on behalf of some DACA recipients, argued that Obama had the authority and states did not have the quality to sue because they had not suffered any prejudice as a result of the program.

Thomas Saenz, president of MALDEF, said on Friday that the plaintiffs would file an appeal.

“Today’s decision underlines once again how essential it is for Congress to come together to reflect the will of a qualified majority of citizens and voters in this country. This will is to see the beneficiaries of DACA and other young immigrants in a similar situation receive legislative action that will pave the way for them to stay and become citizens in our country, ”Saenz said.

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Hanen denied Texas’ 2018 request to stop the program through a preliminary injunction. But in a foreshadowing of his latest ruling, he said he believed the DACA as enacted was likely unconstitutional without Congressional approval.

Hanen decided in 2015 that Obama couldn’t extend DACA protections or institute a program protecting their parents.

While DACA is often described as a program for immigrant youth, many recipients have lived in the United States for a decade or more after being brought into the country without permission or an extended stay visa. The liberal Center for American Progress says that approximately 254,000 children have at least one parent dependent on DACA. Some beneficiaries are grandparents.

Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a progressive organization, expressed disappointment with Friday’s decision, saying in a statement that DACA has been a big success that has transformed many lives.

“Today it is absolutely clear: only a permanent legislative solution passed by Congress will eliminate the fear and uncertainty that DACA recipients have been forced to live with for years. We call on each elected office to do everything in its power so that DACA beneficiaries, their families and their communities can live free from fear and continue to build their lives here, ”said Schulte.

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Galvan reported from Phoenix. Associated Press editors Alan Fram and Lou Kesten in Washington, DC, and Juan Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.

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