Mayes, Dem AGs warn the court that ending DACA would have ‘serious harm’ on states
Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes joined nearly two dozen other Democratic attorneys general to push back on the effort to eliminate the DACA program, warning a federal court that doing so would be devastating for the states that have come to rely on the economic and social benefits its recipients represent.
On Thursday, Mayes and 22 other attorneys general filed an amicus brief advocating for the preservation of DACA with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to take up the question on whether the president has the authority to shield migrants who arrived in the country as children from deportation.
Nine Republican states, led by Texas, argue that he doesn’t. So far, the courts have agreed.
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The Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals program was first established in 2012 by President Barack Obama via an executive order. A group of Republican states quickly challenged the program in a Texas federal court, winning a ruling from Judge Andrew Hanen that determined the program was illegal for failing to undergo the legally mandated comment period.
But, while Hanen froze DACA and closed it to new applicants, he allowed current recipients to continue benefiting from the work permit and safety from deportation the program promises. Since then, more than 44,000 undocumented Arizonans have become eligible for the program but have been left in limbo, with the federal government unable to process any new applications.
In 2022, the Biden administration revamped the program as an administrative rule with the proper time allotted for public input in an attempt to resolve the court’s concerns. But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with Hanen that the 2012 executive order was unlawful, sent the case back to Hanen to determine if the new rulemaking effort was valid. Hanen was unmoved, ruling that there were no “material differences” between the two actions and that immigration law is under the sole purview of Congress.
Now, an appeal of Hanen’s latest decision is again before the 5th Circuit Court, and advocates fear the appellate court is likely to concur with the Texas judge once more. From there, the legal pathway leads to the U.S. Supreme Court. And, while the justices ruled to uphold the DACA program in 2020, the bench’s ideological majority is both significantly more conservative today and unafraid of overturning precedent.
In the hopes of swaying the federal appeals court, Mayes and the other Democratic AGs pointed to the vital contributions DACA recipients offer their states, saying that jeopardizing those contributions would be enormously harmful.
“(Dreamers) are part of the fabric of our nation and our state,” said Mayes, in an emailed news release accompanying the amicus brief. “Dreamers have contributed to our economy, paid taxes, served in our military, and worked in critical sectors of our economy because of the protections afforded them under DACA. Attempts to strip them of these protections are profoundly wrong and would devastate families nationwide and here in Arizona.”
Since the program’s inception in 2012, more than 800,000 people have been granted DACA status, after meeting a bevy of requirements including a guarantee that they have not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor, and proof that they’re either enrolled in school, have graduated or received a GED certificate or have been honorably discharged from the military.
In Arizona alone, more than 30,000 DACA recipients call the state their home.
And the ability of DACA recipients to work legally significantly bolsters the economic and labor force outlook for the states they live in. The attorneys general pointed out that recipients of the program and their households pay $9.5 billion in federal, state and local taxes every year. The population also commands a spending power of $25.3 billion annually, and approximately 54,000 recipients are employed in the education and healthcare sectors — both of which are struggling under debilitating shortages.
“The benefits of DACA extend far beyond the lives of DACA recipients and their families,” reads the brief. “DACA recipients bolster the tax bases and economies of the amici States, work in our essential industries and enrich the student bodies and faculties of our public universities.”
A 2022 survey found that 9 out of 10 DACA recipients are either working or attending school.
The AGs warned the appellate court that removing the protections of DACA would result in disastrous consequences for their states. As many as 70,000 DACA recipients are homeowners — taking away their right to work could lead to foreclosures that negatively impact the property values around them. And more than 300,000 U.S.-born children have at least one parent in the DACA program; putting them in danger of deportation means straining the foster care system when children are left with no other recourse.
The appellate court, wrote the attorneys general, must keep in mind minimizing the impact of harm when ruling on the validity of the DACA program.
“Any remedy must account for the serious harm that terminating DACA would cause to all who have relied on the policy in structuring their affairs over the past decade,” reads the brief. “They are hundreds of thousands of individuals who know no home other than this country, as well as their families, communities, employers, and the States in which they reside.”
Mayes and the coalition of Democratic attorneys general urged the court to preserve DACA, saying that the program is a lawful action from the country’s executive branch and that Hanen’s decision to declare it illegal should be overturned.