Texas AG Leads Charge to End Protections for Young Undocumented Immigrants

click to enlarge Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will lead the charge to end an Obama-era program that granted relief to so-called "Dreamers", undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

In a Thursday letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Paxton gave the Trump Administration an ultimatum – and a deadline. If by September 5, the president hasn't rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has shielded hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation and allowed them to legally work and drive, Texas and nine other states will sue to kill it.

President Barack Obama's 2012 executive action that created DACA came after years of failed efforts to pass some semblance of immigration reform in congress, a key Obama promise during his first White House run. The program would provide a temporary fix for what used to seem like a no-brainer starting point for immigration reform – one that recognizes that people who were brought here as children, many of them infants, had no control over their immigration status and were, for all intents and purposes, as American as anyone else.

Obama's policy provided relief to Dreamers, so named after the Dream Act, a 2010 bill that died in the U.S. Senate in part thanks to people like former Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Amid intense pressure from activists, including sit-ins at her San Antonio office that led to the arrest of prominent local figures, Hutchison was a key swing vote against the bill, which would have given Dreamers a pathway to citizenship. While DACA offered no permanent solution and still left hundreds of thousands of young people in a sort of legal limbo, it was still a much more comfortable one that allowed them to work and travel freely and largely removed the threat of deportation.

"The Deporter in Chief" even tried to expand the program to cover more immigrants in the final years of his presidency. In 2014, Obama tried to extend the same protections to parents of kids who are U.S. citizens or have green cards, calling the program Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA. Texas led the multi-state challenge to kill that policy, too. While the lower courts blocked it from taking effect, a short-staffed U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked on the case in a 4-4 tie. No surprise the Trump justice department earlier this month officially dropped the case and said it would no longer fight to uphold it in court.

After the withering of that policy, conservative activists started asking for Trump to rescind DACA, too. On Thursday, Texas made that request official. "We respectfully request that the Secretary of Homeland Security phase out the DACA program," Paxton writes. "Just like DAPA, DACA unilaterally confers eligibility for work authorization and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress." Then he delivered a September 5 deadline.

Immigrant and civil rights groups quickly condemned Paxton's letter and the other attorneys general who signed it. Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called the letter "threatening."

"The signatories have etched their names in ignominy throughout all of future history," Saenz said. "Their evident xenophobia is not remotely consistent with the trajectory of our nation's history and future progress. Their political careers and each of their states will suffer from their mean-spirited stupidity."
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