New York Attorney General Letitia James has scored another major victory for hundreds of thousands of Caribbean and other “Dreamers” who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and who were at risk of deportation by the Trump administration.
A United States federal court on Saturday issued an order granting James’ request for partial summary judgment, ruling that Chad Wolf, the agency official, who, in July 2020, purported to shut down new DACA applications and cut back the length of DACA renewals, was not lawfully serving as Acting Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at the time.
DACA is an Obama administration program that protected about 700,000 young Caribbean and other immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” from deportation.
After the US Supreme Court ruled in June that the Trump administration’s attempts to cancel DACA were unlawful, the program was supposed to resume.
Instead, the DHS announced that new DACA applications would not be granted and that Wolf had made other interim changes to DACA through a memorandum issued on July 28, while he considered whether to fully rescind DACA.
In August, James co-led a coalition of 17 attorneys general across the US in two filings against President Donald J. Trump, the DHS, Wolf, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), asking the court to vacate the Wolf memo as unlawful.
“The Supreme Court already ruled that President Trump’s attempts to unfairly punish ‘Dreamers’ was unlawful, but now another federal court has ruled that this administration’s attempts to circumvent the courts in an effort to target and punish innocent young people is just as unlawful,” James told Caribbean Life.
“Time and time again, this outgoing administration attempted to use young immigrants as political scapegoats,” she added. “America is where these young people have gone to school, where they have worked, where they have paid taxes, where they have raised families, and where they have continued to be vital members of our communities.
“Our coalition will not hesitate to use every tool at our disposal to continue to protect these young people in every way possible,” James affirmed.
“Dreamers” are Caribbean and other foreign-born young people who came to the United States at a young age and now identify as Americans.
James said most have no memory of or connection with the country where they were born, and that many don’t speak any language other than English.
Under immigration law before the DACA program, the New York attorney general said most of these young people had no protection against deportation, even though they had lived most their lives in the United States.
Since 2012, she said more than 825,000 young people, who were brought to the United States at a young age, were promised that, if they came out of the shadows, they could legally work, study, serve in the military and raise families in the United States without fear of arrest or deportation.
After Trump ordered his administration to change the policy in 2017 and break the promises made to these “Dreamers,” a prolonged legal battle began in September 2017 that made its way through multiple courts before landing, in a combined case, at the US Supreme Court.
This past June, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s attempt to cancel the DACA program was “arbitrary and capricious,” and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.
Despite the US Supreme Court’s reinstatement of DACA, the late July memo by Wolf ordered DHS to reject all new initial DACA applications, to change the renewal period for current beneficiaries from two years to one year and to reject all advance parole applications, absent exceptional circumstances.
The Wolf memo also purported to apply these changes retroactively to all applications submitted after the June 18 — the date of the US Supreme Court decision.
The court’s order over the weekend found that the Wolf memo was invalid, stating that Wolf has never lawfully served in the role of acting Secretary of Homeland Security, because “his assumption of that role violated DHS’s order of succession”.
James noted that Wolf assumed the acting secretary position pursuant to a November 2019 revision to DHS’s succession order issued by then-Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
“But McAleenan had no power to make that revision, because he assumed the position unlawfully himself following then-Secretary Nielsen’s April 2019 resignation,” she said.
“DHS’s operative succession order at the time of Secretary Nielsen’s resignation unambiguously provided that the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, not the commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (the position McAleenan was filling before he succeeded Nielsen), was to succeed the secretary in the event she resigned,” James added.
Joining James in co-leading this effort was Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
The three were joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia.