A coalition of 15 states, along with the District of Columbia, filed a lawsuit Wednesday aimed at overturning the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York, argues that President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate the program, which protects undocumented immigrants who arrived as youth from deportation, violated due process and amounted to a discriminatory attempt “to punish and disparage people with Mexican roots.” Some 78 percent of DACA recipients were born in Mexico, according to the complaint.
The same type of argument was successful for states before ― courts blocked Trump’s travel bans based in part on an argument that he had shown animus toward Muslims. His words and tweets could come back to bite him again on DACA.
The suit also argues that rescinding DACA would harm the states’ economies, colleges, residents and businesses.
“It’s clear that President Trump’s DACA repeal would cause huge economic harm to New York ― and that it’s driven by President Trump’s personal anti-Mexican bias,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
The states also asked that the federal government be prohibited from sharing DACA recipients’ personal info with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in order to deport them.
In addition to New York and the District of Columbia, the states involved are Massachusetts, Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.
The lawsuit marks the second legal challenge in federal court to the Trump administration’s decision to nix former President Barack Obama’s signature immigration reform, which Obama carried out by executive action.
Trump announced on Tuesday that he was terminating the program, and the first DACA recipients will begin to lose their work permits and protections in six months. The move could eventually drive nearly 800,000 so-called “Dreamers,” who came to the U.S., as children out of the legal workforce and put them at greater risk of being deported.
A lawsuit filed last year on behalf of DACA recipient Martín Jonathan Batalla Vidal in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn sought to overturn the decision to enjoin a similar program that would have shielded the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens from deportation and expanded the scope of DACA. On Tuesday, the lawyers for the National Immigration Law Center, Make the Road New York, and the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School who brought the case asked to amend the complaint to also oppose the termination of DACA.
“President Trump’s consistent anti-Mexican statements, from the start of his campaign through his rally last month in Phoenix, demonstrate his intent to discriminate against Mexican and Latino individuals, who will bear the overwhelming burden of the DACA termination,” the filing Tuesday in the Batalla Vidal case states.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis scheduled a hearing for the request to amend the complaint for Sept. 14.
The two lawsuits against Trump for ending DACA hinge on similar claims. They say the Trump administration flouted the Administrative Procedure Act by canceling the DACA program with little notice and no time for public comment.
They also both describe nixing DACA as the culmination of Trump’s alleged hostility toward Mexicans, citing his harsh comments on the campaign trail about Mexican immigrants.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley defended the decision to phase out the program despite the lawsuits, reiterating the administration’s claim that Obama’s creation of the program unlawfully skirted the authority of Congress.
“While the plaintiffs in today’s lawsuits may believe that an arbitrary circumvention of Congress is lawful, the Department of Justice looks forward to defending this Administration’s position,” O’Malley wrote in a statement.
Legal analysts consulted by HuffPost said the cases would be challenging to win but raise complex legal arguments that could sway a court to either reverse the Trump administration’s decision or delay it.
Any president has wide latitude to take executive action or to undo the executive actions of past presidents. But if either lawsuit succeeds in convincing a federal judge that Trump was driven by an intent to discriminate against Mexican immigrants, his decision could be invalidated as a violation of the Constitution.
“If they can prove this was motivated by racial animus, then a court would likely strike it down as a violation of equal protection,” Stephen Legomsky, a professor at Washington University School of Law and former legal counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told HuffPost. “But that’s not a slam dunk by any means. Much will depend on the particular judge they land and how the judge assesses the evidence.”
Muzaffar Chishti, a legal analyst with the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, said the case against ending DACA has a chance of success given the Trump administration’s losses in federal court over the attempt to restrict visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“We have frankly no idea how the courts are going to react, but there are some substantive issues for the courts to deal with,” Chishti told HuffPost. “The legal front on this has been opened.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) plans to bring a third lawsuit in the coming days, according to a spokesperson for his office. He plans to file the suit in California, which is home to approximately 200,000 Dreamers.
“President Trump has turned his back on hundreds of thousands of children and young Americans who came forward and put their trust in our government. But in terminating DACA, the Trump Administration has also violated the Constitution and federal law,” Becerra said in a statement on Tuesday.
Attorneys general in other states have also voiced support for DACA. Twenty of them, led by Becerra, signed a letter to Trump in July asking him to maintain the program. The attorneys general of all the states involved in the lawsuit filed Wednesday signed that letter, along with those from Maine, Maryland and Minnesota.
Other state attorneys general helped contribute to DACA’s demise. Ten states, led by Texas, threatened legal action against Trump if he did not rescind DACA by Sept. 5, although one of the state attorneys general backed off his demand last week. Trump still eventually agreed to their demand.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said while announcing the decision on Tuesday that he had determined the original DACA program was unconstitutional and would fail in the courts based on a past injunction against the broader program by Obama to protect certain undocumented parents and expand DACA. Although those policies were blocked before going into effect, there was never a final court ruling on the merits of that case, and it’s not a certainty that a court would draw the same conclusions for the DACA program already in effect.
This was a breaking story and has been updated throughout.