For the second time in two months, a federal judge has stepped into an intense political fight over immigration policy, issuing an injunction that orders the Trump administration to keep in place the embattled program known as DACA, which protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The nationwide injunction, issued on Tuesday by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, came one month after a court in California also ruled that the administration needed to spare DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Judge Garaufis’s ruling in many ways echoed the one issued by Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco. But it also offered additional reasons for why DACA should remain in place as the case continues through the courts, and it detailed the harms that its repeal would cause to young immigrants and others.
On Sept. 5, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced that the Trump administration planned to end DACA gradually, saying that the program had been unconstitutionally established by President Barack Obama in 2012. Under the rollback, the Department of Homeland Security is still considering pending DACA applications and renewal requests from recipients who filed by Oct. 5. But the department plans to reject all applications after that.
After Mr. Sessions’s announcement, a coalition of immigration lawyers and a group of 16 Democratic state attorneys general, led by Eric Schneiderman of New York, filed separate but linked lawsuits in Brooklyn, claiming that the repeal of DACA was an “arbitrary and capricious” decision largely motivated by a “racial animus” against Latinos. In his ruling, Judge Garaufis agreed with the lawyers that the rollback was arbitrary and capricious; but while he has vociferously criticized Mr. Trump from the bench for his anti-immigrant tweets and public statements, the judge made no mention of racial animus in his findings.
Under the ruling, the government will now have to maintain DACA as it was before the Sept. 5 announcement. But it does not have to accept new applications, Judge Garaufis wrote, and it can decide renewal requests on a case-by-case basis. While Judge Garaufis noted that he was “sympathetic” to those who were unable to apply for DACA before Sept. 5, he added that the injunction would not apply to them.
The immigration lawyers who brought the case nonetheless hailed his ruling as a victory.
“During a week when the Senate is having a battle over immigration, we now have two judges saying that what happened on Sept. 5 was not justified,” said Marisol Orihuela, a lawyer from the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School. “This sends a clear message to lawmakers to act and pass something.”
After the decision, Mr. Schneiderman said in a statement that the judge had affirmed the states’ position. “Federal courts from coast to coast have now reviewed the record and reached the same conclusion,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA was illegal.”
In a statement, Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department, reiterated arguments that the government had made before Judge Garaufis, saying that DACA was “an unlawful circumvention of Congress” and that the Department of Homeland Security had “acted within its lawful authority.”
“Promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens,” Mr. O’Malley added. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend this position, and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation.”
Since the Trump administration’s decision to end the program, Judge Garaufis wrote, more than 100 DACA recipients a day have been losing their protected status — a number, he noted, that could rise to as many as 1,400 a day once the program officially ends on March 5. All of them could face deportation, he said; some may face the loss of health care, imposing burdens not only on the immigrants themselves, but also on public hospitals. Employers will be hurt as DACA recipients lose their jobs, Judge Garaufis added, “resulting in staggering adverse economic impacts” that could include up to $800 million in lost tax revenue.
Ending DACA would also have “profound and irreversible” social costs, Judge Garaufis said, as hundreds of thousands of recipients are separated from their families. “It is impossible to understand the full consequences of a decision of this magnitude,” he wrote.
Though he has repeatedly said that he would prefer Congress, not the courts, fix DACA, Judge Garaufis has from the start of the case had tough words for the government in general and for Mr. Trump specifically. At a hearing in January, he slammed Mr. Trump for his “recurring redundant drumbeat of anti-Latino commentary.”
“This isn’t ordinary,” Judge Garaufis said. “In this country, in over 250 years, it’s extreme, it’s recurrent and it’s vicious.”
At the same hearing, Judge Garaufis also took a shot at Mr. Sessions, who had rebuked him at a speech in October for an earlier remark the judge had made calling the repeal of DACA “heartless.” Citing the speech, Judge Garaufis said in open court that Mr. Sessions “seems to think that courts don’t get to have their own opinions.”
In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Garaufis based his decision to keep DACA in place for now on the Administrative Procedure Act, which forbids the government from acting arbitrarily or capriciously in changing federal policy. He noted that lawyers for the government had initially claimed that DACA was ended out a fear that the program would be struck down as illegal, much as a federal court in Texas had done in 2015 with a similar program known as DAPA, which protected the parents of young immigrants.
But, Judge Garaufis wrote, “the administrative record does not support defendants’ contention that they decided to end DACA for this reason.” In fact, he added, the government had showed “a failure to explain their decision” at all.
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