TAMPA — A federal appeals panel ruled against an Obama-era program for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The panel sent the case back to a South Texas federal judge to review a revised policy from the Biden administration to enroll new applicants.
The ruling Wednesday means that the program will continue for now and participants will be able to renew their status, but it will not take new applications.
The program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protects over 600,000 immigrants who were brought to the United States before they were 16.
Diego Dulanto, 23, one of the program participants, criticized the court’s decision and called for a path to citizenship. Dulanto arrived with his parents in 2002 from Lima, Peru, when he was 4. He recently graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in psychology.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised. This political back and forth that the federal and state governments have been doing isn’t some game to us. DACA is my, and so many others’, livelihoods, and it’s still not enough,” said Dulanto.
The federal court’s decision sent the case back to Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas, who in July 2021 blocked new applications.
The program started in 2012 with an executive order from the Obama administration to allow immigrants known as “dreamers” to stay here while working and going to college. It was for those who had lived in the U.S. at least five years and had a clean legal record. The program provides recipients a Social Security number and enables them to work. It also makes them eligible for a Florida driver’s license and in-state college tuition.
The Trump administration tried to end the program more than once. Advocates said political maneuvers closed the program to new registrants when Hanen ruled last year that the program was illegal.
The Department of Justice appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, resulting in Wednesday’s decision. The case could have another negative outcome, according to FWD.us, a bipartisan organization working to reform immigration and criminal justice systems.
“Today’s 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision has made one thing abundantly clear: Legislation is the only real solution,” said Ted Hutchinson, Florida director for FWD.us.
Hutchinson condemned the ruling and urged Congress to take action. He said the program has given 24,000 Florida immigrants the ability to legally live, work and study for more than a decade.
“This is no longer a warning call that DACA is in jeopardy — the policy is still in immediate danger of being permanently ended,” Hutchinson told the Tampa Bay Times.
Nanci Palacios, 31, a participant and deputy director of Faith in Florida, a nonprofit that works with immigrants and minority communities in Dover, said living in limbo — and at the will of a judge’s decision — is no way to live.
“Congress needs to take these threats seriously,” said Palacios. “It takes a mental toll on everyone wondering what will happen to them if DACA is taken away.”