A federal judge in Maryland on Friday ordered the Trump administration to fully reinstate the(DACA) program, an Obama-era initiative that shields hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.
The order by Judge Paul Grimm of the U.S. District Court in Maryland requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to restore DACA to the way it operated before the administration tried to terminate it in the fall of 2017. A Supreme Court opinion last month had prevented DHS from moving forward with its plans to dismantle DACA, but Friday's order explicitly instructs the department to open the program to hundreds of thousands of potential new applicants.
The Supreme Court's decision in June set aside the DHS memo in 2017 that would've ended DACA and affirmed a lower court ruling that required the program's full reinstatement. But there was some subsequent debate about whether the administration had to comply with the opinion before the high court issued a certified judgement, which has yet to be posted.
Though it has been required by several courts to process renewal DACA applications for the past three years, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not accepted petitions from those who were never enrolled in the program since late 2017, even if the applicants met the requirements, which include having no felonies or serious misdemeanors on record.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants who currently meet the DACA prerequisites could gain protection from deportation if USCIS starts adjudicating initial petitions, according to an estimate by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute. This population includes approximately 66,000 teenagers who met the DACA age requirement after the Trump administration moved to end the program.
However, USCIS has yet to commit to accepting and adjudicating initial petitions, despite multiple requests to clarify its stance following the Supreme Court's ruling, which found that the administration's effort to end DACA violated federal administrative law. As of Friday afternoon, USCIS adjudicators who process DACA cases had not received any guidance about initial applications, two agency employees who requested anonymity told CBS News.
USCIS spokesperson Daniel Hetlage said late Friday that the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security were reviewing Friday's court decision. DHS did not respond to a request to comment. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice, which represents the federal government in litigation, did not provide any comment.
More than 640,000 immigrants are currently enrolled in DACA, which does not provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship. To qualify for the protections first offered by President Obama in 2012, these young immigrants had to meet certain requirements, including having arrived in the U.S before they were 16, having lived in the country since at least 2007 and earning an American high school diploma, a GED or serving honorably in the military.
Nick Katz, an attorney at CASA de Maryland, the main group in the Maryland case, said Friday's order is a "vindication" of his organization's view that DACA needed to be fully reinstated following the Supreme Court's opinion in June, as well as a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that also found the program's termination to be "arbitrary and capricious."
"Today's order leaves absolutely no doubt that USCIS needs to start processing new DACA applications, which they have failed to do even though they have been required to do so," Katz told CBS News.
Katz said USCIS has not responded to several DACA applications his group recently filed on behalf of youth who never had the protection. He said CASA de Maryland has identified hundreds of young immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area who are eligible for DACA and anxious to apply for the first time. Not allowing them to enroll in the program would fly in the face of constitutional and democratic principles, Katz added.
"We're a nation that is built on the rule of law, and this administration needs to accept this and accept the court's decision," he added.