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Will a Federal Judge’s Ruling Force Congress to Finally Address DACA?

AP Photo/Gregory Bull

After years of being in limbo, it seems possible that the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will finally be addressed. The program has been something of a political football over the past four years, but a federal judge’s ruling might be the impetus for Congress to finally deal with the issue.

Politico reported that a Texas judge’s ruling on Friday declared that DACA is unconstitutional and has barred the Biden administration from accepting new applications for the program. Under this Obama-era measure, individuals who were brought illegally into the country by their parents when they were minor children were given a deferral on deportation proceedings and eligibility for work permits.

From Politico:

In a 77-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen found that DACA is unlawful and that the Department of Homeland Security can no longer approve new applicants into the program, which has granted work permits and protection from deportation to more than 600,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. He also ruled that DHS could continue to process DACA renewals for now as the issue continues to move through the courts.

The order does not “require DHS or the Department of Justice to take any immigration, deportation, or criminal action against any DACA recipient, applicant, or any other individuals that it would not otherwise take,” according to the ruling.

Naturally, President Joe Biden released a statement on Saturday stating that the decision was “deeply disappointing” and announced that the Justice Department would be appealing the ruling.

Judge Andrew Hanen, who issued the ruling, was expected to decide against the program. However, some have speculated that such a ruling would prompt Congress to finally take up the matter instead of leaving it in limbo. Democratic politicians and immigrant advocacy groups criticized the ruling while calling on Congress to include a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients in the upcoming $3.5 trillion spending bill.

Most Americans on both sides of the political divide supported the program. A Politico/Morning Consult conducted last year found that 71 percent of conservatives, including 69 percent of Trump voters, believed that DACA recipients should be protected.

The question is: Will Congress finally start taking the DACA issue seriously now?

When former President Donald Trump ended the program during his first year in office, many surmised that Congress would take up the matter then. But the Democrats did not seem interested in negotiating a deal that would enshrine it into law. Democrats seemed to prefer using DACA as a way to drum up outrage against the former president and dangling it in front of voters as an incentive to support them.

When Republicans in Congress agreed to include a permanent DACA solution in proposed legislation that would also increase border security, the Democrats balked. This further demonstrated that leftist lawmakers might not have been as serious about securing legal status for DACA recipients in the first place.

However, in 2021, President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are in desperate need of a win — given the fact that they have failed to succeed in realizing most of their more ambitious legislative objectives. It is conceivable that they might see a chance for a victory they can tout in the 2022 midterm elections, which is not looking so favorable for them at the moment.

Still, a DACA victory would require the support of at least some Republicans because the Democrats have only slim majorities in both chambers of Congress. This is especially true in the Senate, where there is a 50/50 split.

Republicans will almost certainly require increased border security in exchange for granting some type of permanent legal status for DACA recipients. This would mean that coming to an agreement would require Democrats to sacrifice at least some of their open borders agenda to obtain a win, and at this juncture, it is not clear whether enough of them will be willing to make that type of concession.

Moderates like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) might be amenable to such a compromise, as would members of the House. But the far-left progressive wing of the party will undoubtedly cry foul; Sen. Bernie Sanders and members of the “Squad” never saw a border security measure they didn’t want to vote against.

Either way, we can probably expect the DACA debate to once again take center stage among all the other issues the country is facing. But will the outcome be any different than it was in 2017?