SB4 blocked, but Trump announces plan to phase out DACA
The estimated 800 undocumented immigrants at the University of Houston breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday when a federal judge temporarily blocked Texas’ Senate Bill 4, known as the “anti-sanctuary cities law,” from going into effect.
But uncertainty rose again Tuesday when U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows immigrants who came to the country illegally as children to receive renewable two-year work permits and receive temporary deferral from deportation.
Trump’s executive order gives Congress six months to create legislation that protects DACA recipients.
“The ball really is in Congress’s court to develop a new plan,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a UH political science professor. “Not developing any plan would mean that (DACA recipients) are vulnerable to deportation, which is not to say that that will happen, but if the policies are followed through, it could very well mean that.”
UH Law Center Immigration Clinic Director Geoffrey Hoffman said DACA recipients’ legal protections depend on the implementation procedures and policies of the federal government.
“The hope is that Congress will step in and pass much needed immigration reform and protect DACA recipients and people into the future who meet the strict DACA requirements,” he said.
UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator said in a statement that the Trump administration’s decision is “of great concern to the University of Houston System.”
“We are sensitive to the disruption that DACA termination would have on our students who are covered by this law, the work they are doing to further their academic pursuits and dreams and their crucial role in our institution’s culture and diversity,” she said. “As a diverse and inclusive community that believes in the power of education, the University of Houston System will continue to support all of its students, including those covered under DACA, through any means afforded under law.”
Congress has six months, Rottinghaus said, to address immigration reform with specific legislation to protect DACA recipients and maintain the program in some form.
It’s possible that Congress will try to pass a broader measure aimed at protecting DACA recipients’ parents, he said, which was attempted in 2014 under President Barack Obama but blocked by a court ruling.
The scope of immigration reform is contingent on whether conservative elements of the Republican Party voice opposition to it, Rottinghaus said.
“If Congress goes small and tries to reform this one program, they might succeed,” he said. “If they try to go bigger and try to include this program as part of a bigger package of reforms, it might make it more difficult.”
Several prominent Republican lawmakers support protections for children who were brought to the country illegally.
“I have always believed DACA was a presidential overreach. However, I equally understand the plight of the Dream Act kids who — for all practical purposes — know no country other than America,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement Monday, according to The Hill.
House Speaker Paul Ryan urged Trump not to abandon the Obama-era program.
“I actually don’t think he should do that, and I believe that this is something Congress has to fix,” Ryan said Friday, according to The Hill.
Trump was pressured to act on DACA, which protects roughly 800,000 immigrants, by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, according to the Texas Tribune. He, along with nine other attorneys general, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June threatening a lawsuit if DACA was not terminated by Tuesday.
S.B. 4 appealed by state
Paxton was also named as a defendant, along with Gov. Greg Abbott, in the SB 4 lawsuit filed by San Antonio’s City Council in June, according to NBC News. Austin, El Paso, Dallas and Houston later joined San Antonio in the lawsuit, uniting Texas’ major urban centers.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia granted a preliminary injunction of S.B. 4 last Wednesday, meaning the bill will not become law for six months, according to the Texas Tribune.
Garcia blocked the part of the law that requires local police departments to honor all federal immigration “detainers,” or requests to hold someone accused of being in the country illegally, but it did uphold the portion of the law that allows police officers to question the immigration status of the people they detain.
“It’s hard to read into the decision too much, except for the fact that the court found enough of the policy to be potentially legally difficult and problematic,” Rottinghaus said. “Just because there’s a temporary injunction doesn’t mean that the policy will go away long-term.”
The lawsuit will go to the next layer of court, Rottinghaus said,
“The full circuit will likely hear it, and if that doesn’t go the way defendants want, it’ll be appealed by the attorney general to the Supreme Court,” he said.
It is too early to tell, however, if the Supreme Court would hear the case, Hoffman said, because 98 percent of certiorari – an order in which a higher court reviews a lower court’s decision – are not accepted by the high court.
A comma, not a period
The temporary injunction of S.B. 4 is good news, said Youth Empowerment Alliance Maria Treviño-Rodriguez, though the battle is far from over.
“Unfortunately, it’s only temporary,” she said. “This doesn’t necessarily solve the issue of politicizing undocumented people within our state, but it does at least serve as some type of safety net for a lot of families that were fearing unjust and cruel deportations.”
Trump’s decision to rollback DACA, however, is dangerous for the immigrant rights movement, she said, but it’s a surmountable hurdle.
“It isn’t the end of the conversation,” Treviño-Rodriguez said. “ This isn’t necessarily a period but more of a comma. We’re looking forward to, at this time, creating even more of an understanding of why dreamers are necessary in our communities.”