Federal court keeps DACA in limbo, adding urgency to efforts to protect DREAMers

By Egan Millard
Posted Oct 6, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] A federal appeals court issued a ruling on Oct. 5 that leaves DACA – an immigration program supported by The Episcopal Church and other faith groups – in place for now, but continues the uncertainty that the program and those it protects have always faced.

DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – is a program enacted in 2012 by the Obama administration that allows immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay in the country if they meet certain criteria. It has gone back and forth through federal courts for years.

The Oct. 5 ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sends the case back to the judge who last year declared the program illegal, banning new applications while keeping current protections in place. The move is largely procedural, and DACA is expected to eventually go before the U.S. Supreme Court, which could end the program.

The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is for Congress to establish it by law.

“These protections will remain in place while litigation continues, but if DACA is ultimately struck down, the impact on DACA recipients, their families, and their livelihoods will be devastating for our communities and our country,” The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations said in an Oct. 6 statement. “Congress must proactively pass permanent protections for DACA recipients.”

After President Donald Trump attempted to end DACA in 2017, the Supreme Court concluded in 2020 that the administration did not follow proper procedures in doing so, leaving DACA protections in place. However, the ruling did not address whether the program itself was constitutional, leaving it vulnerable to more legal challenges.

In July 2021, a Texas federal judge ruled that the program was illegal. The ruling allowed current recipients to continue renewing their status, but it blocked new applications. As of December 2021, there were an estimated 636,390 DACA recipients in the U.S.; estimates for the number of eligible people are between 1 and 2 million.

Because DACA is an executive order, not a law, it is vulnerable to continued legal challenges. That’s why The Episcopal Church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations has been among the many voices urging Congress to pass legislation that would codify DACA protections into federal law.

The Episcopal Church has supported compassionate and humane immigration reforms for decades. General Convention has passed several resolutions specifically supporting the DACA program and laws that would make it permanent, most recently in 2018.

In 2020, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Episcopal Public Policy Network encouraged Episcopalians to write to their representatives and urge them to pass the DREAM Act. First introduced in 2001 but never passed, the DREAM Act would allow people who fit DACA criteria to continue to live, study and work in the U.S. They would also be able to attain permanent residency status if they attend college or serve in the military. Versions of the bill have been introduced in Congress at least a dozen times. The House of Representatives passed a version of it in March 2021, but it has stalled in the Senate.

“The Episcopal Church has long supported providing a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients as well as all undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children,” the Office of Government Relations wrote. “We also continue to push for legislation which will allow the millions of undocumented immigrants who have established roots in the United States to have a pathway to legalization and to full social and economic integration in to the United States.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.