Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is again seeking to end the protections granted by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
Paxton, who was reelected in November, is leading a nine-state coalition challenging President Joe Biden’s version of DACA. Paxton earlier had success when the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Obama-era version of DACA was unconstitutional.
Paxton described Biden’s DACA as version 2.0 of the Obama program.
“The Obama and Biden programs are practically indistinguishable in both the negative harms that they will have on this country and in the illegal means used to implement them," he wrote. "I am therefore calling for the new DACA rule to end in the same way that the Obama-era rule did: struck down as unlawful,” Paxton wrote in a Wednesday news release announcing his motion to end the program.
Paxton argues the states have been burdened by the program, and that the Obama and Biden administrations overstepped their authority. The Republican-led states are asking the federal judge to wind down the program over two years.
“It violates the Constitution because Congress has never enacted a law, creating the DACA program," said Robert Henneke, executive director and general counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. "And it's unconstitutional for the executive branch, by itself, to establish immigration policy, which is what it's done with the current DACA rule. It's what it did previously with the DACA memorandum, the president by himself cannot create law."
A federal judge in 2021 declared DACA illegal after Texas and eight other Republican-leaning states filed a lawsuit claiming they are harmed financially, incurring hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, education and other costs, when immigrants are allowed to remain in the country illegally. They also argued that the White House overstepped its authority by granting immigration benefits that are for Congress to decide.
In October 2022, that same judge, Andrew Hanen, ruled that DACA could remain in place with limitations he stipulated. Those limitations say there can be no new applicants for DACA and that those who are already in the program can continue to be in it and renew their applications, every two years.
DACA, which has existed for over 10 years, prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers,” have become a powerful political force even though they can’t vote, but their efforts to achieve a path to citizenship through Congress have repeatedly fallen short. Any imminent threat to lose work authorization and to expose themselves to deportation could pressure Congress into protecting them, even as a stopgap measure.
For many, the fight to keep DACA recipients in the United States is personal.
Pamela Chomba is one of the 600,000 currently active DACA recipients. She was a staffer for Democrat Wendy Davis’ unsuccessful campaign run Texas governor when she found her calling: working toward immigration reform.
Chomba now works for FWD.us, a political group which advocates for immigration overhaul.
“That eagerness of people to be part of the community to vote, and to also have a voice, that drove me to the politics of immigration,” Chomba told Spectrum News. "Understanding Texas for me is knowing that it is a very unique state that wields a lot of power."
Chomba called the Texas-led effort to end DACA "another attempt to try to finish a popular program by any means necessary," and urged Congress to take action on immigration reform.
"It's hard to just live your life litigation battle after litigation battle, not knowing what's happening next," said Chomba. "So really, Congress, you have the opportunity to pass legislation for many 'Dreamers' and their family members too.”
Pointing to a recent editorial by the executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association that pushed for reforms, Chomba argued ending the DACA program would have effects on the economy.
“It's not just, you know, a moral obligation that people that have lived in this country for over two decades, call the U.S. their home, but it's also has a great impact on our economy, and what we can create, like the infrastructure that we lack,” Chomba said. “We can put forward solutions for back in our states, with many of the talents that we have.”
One expert told Spectrum News that because of the ongoing litigation and the lack of action by Congress, DACA will eventually face the Supreme Court once again.
“Until Congress passes legislation that provides rules related to DACA, rules related to asylum, rules related to the border, you're going to have this ad hoc battle between executive orders and states, politically conservative states reacting, arguing against it when it's a Democratic president,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.