Attorneys representing young immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, defended the legality of the program before a court in Texas on Thursday in an attempt to keep it alive.
The federal judge presiding over the hearing was the same one who declared DACA illegal in 2021, closing the program for new applicants. At the time, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen said the Obama administration failed to follow federal administrative rules in launching the program in 2012.
DACA, which was implemented in 2012 as an executive order by then-President Barack Obama, has allowed eligible undocumented young adults who came to the U.S. as children to work and study without fear of deportation.
Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and an attorney representing DACA recipients in a legal challenge brought against the program by Texas and other Republican-led states, said the case went back to Hanen’s court to consider a recent Biden administration rule that turned the program into a federal regulation to increase its chances of surviving legal challenges.
The nine states that have sued to end DACA “lack standing to sue,” Perales said in a news conference outside the court after the hearing ended Thursday afternoon, adding that the states have not been able to prove that DACA has caused them any harm or injury.
“We should not be in court, at all, having to defend DACA,” Perales said.
The states that sued are Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kansas and Mississippi.
In court filings, the states argued that the updated program is essentially the same as the 2012 memo that first created it and remains “unlawful and unconstitutional.” The states also argued that the White House overstepped its authority by granting immigration benefits that are for Congress to decide.
Perales and her team argued DACA is legal because it’s the byproduct of “a lawful exercise of executive discretion over immigration,” she said.
DACA is also consistent with other policies the U.S. government has implemented in the past that provide deportation relief in exchange of permission to work, Perales said in a phone call with reporters Tuesday.
More than 580,000 DACA recipients live in the U.S. An overwhelming majority were born in Mexico and other Latin American countries. The average DACA recipient is ages 26 to 28, according to Gaby Pacheco of The Dream.US, an organization helping DACA recipients and other immigrant youths known as Dreamers go to college.
“They have more to lose now because many of them are already 10 years in the workforce; they have careers, they have families,” Pacheco told reporters Tuesday.
Maritza Gutierrez, a DACA recipient who was among more than 50 people gathered at a park near the courthouse, urged Congress to pass a “permanent solution, not something that needs to be renewed every two years.”
“Stop using our lives and that of our children as political pawns,” Gutierrez, who’s a mother to a 2-year-old child, said in Spanish outside the court.
Hanen is not expected to immediately rule after Thursday’s court hearing. But whatever decision he makes could eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court for a third time.
Nicole Acevedo is a reporter for NBC News Digital. She reports, writes and produces stories for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com.