About 108,000 young undocumented immigrants received three-year protections and U.S. work permits in a several-month period in late 2014 and early 2015. They hadn't done anything wrong -- they just applied for a government program in the same way hundreds of thousands of so-called Dreamers have done since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started in 2012.
But the fact that they got those three-year permits, rather than the two-year permits distributed since 2012, could put them at risk of having their personal information -- including names and addresses -- released to state authorities.
This would be as a result of a Thursday court order by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who last year blocked President Barack Obama's 2014 executive actions on immigration reform -- namely, an expansion of DACA and a new program for parents called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.
The Supreme Court is currently considering whether those executive actions should be allowed to move forward. But in the meantime, Hanen, who is based in Brownsville, Texas, is railing from the bench over the Justice Department attorneys' actions in his court, where the lawsuit from 26 states started.
Hanen's latest court order rebukes Justice Department attorneys for their conduct in proceedings for Obama's 2014 executive actions. It also demands that the federal government hand over a list of certain DACA recipients in the 26 states that sued over Obama's immigration programs.
The list wouldn't just be names -- Hanen ordered the government to include the DACA recipients' addresses, contact information and dates when their work permits were renewed or granted. Hanen also requested the recipients' "A" numbers, which are used by immigration enforcement to identify undocumented immigrants.
Hanen ordered the Justice Department to give him a sealed copy of this list by June 10, and said it would remain sealed until the Supreme Court issues a decision. At that point, though, he said states could request that the court release some or part of the list to authorities if they showed good cause that the information included would minimize or prevent harm in that state.
The federal government already has all of this information, of course. The chief selling point of DACA and DAPA was that they would help federal immigration authorities identify undocumented immigrants with strong ties to the community who would not be priorities for deportation, so they could focus on removing other people instead.
But Hanen's order could put the list in the hands of state authorities who oppose Obama's actions to protect undocumented immigrants.
It's not clear what the state authorities would do with that information. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) issued a statement Thursday applauding the broader order. A spokeswoman for Paxton declined to elaborate on whether the state sought that information or what it would do with it.
Either way, it's a frightening prospect for Dreamers, particularly as they prepare for the potential presidency of Republican Donald Trump, who has vowed not just to end DACA but to deport or drive out all undocumented immigrants.
“Judge Hanen knows that DACA beneficiaries have been thriving, yet he’s asking for the personal information of young people just to whip up fear," Greisa Martinez, advocacy director of the group United We Dream, said in a statement. "It’s one more example of anti-immigrant extremists using the courts to advance the Republican hate agenda."
The backstory on who would be included and how the order came about is a bit complicated. Obama established DACA in 2012. In November 2014, he announced plans to create DAPA and expand DACA to a broader group of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, set for implementation in the spring of 2015. He also said the government would grant three-year work permits, rather than the two-year permits granted under the 2012 iteration of DACA.
After that announcement, the government continued to issue DACA permits and to renew them for people who fit the requirements for the initial iteration of the program. And the permits it issued were for three years, rather than two.
Therein lies the controversy. By the time Hanen issued a preliminary injunction on the 2014 executive actions in February 2015, the government had already granted about 108,000 three-year work permits to DACA recipients who fit the requirements of the 2012 program. (The 2012 version of the program was not part of the lawsuit, and is still in effect.) Hanen has accused the Justice Department of being deceptive by failing initially to state clearly that this aspect of the executive actions had already begun.
He ordered the government to rescind those three-year permits. The government did not rescind the permits granted before the injunction date, but it did recall any issued in error since then. It is now only granting two-year permits, and only to people who were eligible for the original version of DACA.
Hanen now wants a list of people who, as he puts it in the court order, received three-year permits during the period "in which the attorneys for the Justice Department promised that no benefits were being conferred." Since this only applies to the 26 states that joined the anti-immigration action lawsuit, it's not clear how many of the 108,000 Dreamers from the period in question would be included.
United We Dream has launched a petition to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking her not to give the courts the undocumented young people's information.
The Justice Department on Friday declined to comment on the order for a list. A spokesman told reporters in a statement on Thursday that the department "strongly disagrees with the order," but did not say whether it plans to appeal.