Pa. joins more than a dozen states in suit over DACA decision

Olivia Vazquez, Anel Medina, and Maria Castaneda, all DACA recipients, speak at a rally outside the Philadelphia offices of the U.S. Justice Department.

Pennsylvania, along with 14 other states and the District of Columbia, has filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, with Attorney General Josh Shapiro arguing the move “violates the rule of law.”

Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced Tuesday that the administration would spend the next six months “winding down” the Obama-era policy, which protects undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children from deportation. DACA recipients also received work permits and could renew their status every two years. The administration has framed the move as giving Congress a chance to pass its own version of the policy, which benefits about 790,000 immigrants.

The states are seeking an injunction from a federal judge that would bar the administration from rescinding DACA  while the case moves through court, and block the administration from using recipients’ information to deport them.

“Whether or not you agree with the policy or support President Trump isn’t the issue here,” Shapiro said in a statement. “The federal government made a promise, they put a program in place and asked these young people who have grown up as Americans to apply, and the rule of law says we can’t rip that away from them now.”

On Tuesday, Sessions argued that President Barack Obama had no constitutional right to institute DACA. Proponents have countered that the president has the power to decide how laws are enforced and that Trump’s decision to upend it would in turn upend the lives of thousands who have relied on the program since 2012.

Shapiro said in an interview Wednesday afternoon that he and other attorneys general began to review the Trump administration’s directive on DACA immediately after the rescission was announced.

The suit argues that ending DACA, which overwhelmingly benefits immigrants originally from Mexico, “is a culmination of President Trump’s oft-stated commitments — whether personally held, stated to appease some portion of his constituency, or some combination thereof — to punish and disparage people with Mexican roots.” That, the states argue, violates the due-process clause of the  Fifth Amendment. In addition, they assert that the Trump administration didn’t consider the impact of the move on DACA recipients before rescinding it, a violation of law.

Mayor Kenney, who’s suing Sessions over an attempt to withhold funds from sanctuary cities such as Philadelphia, said through a spokesperson that he agrees with the lawsuit: “We support the state’s effort to protect these Pennsylvanians who are just trying to pursue the American dream.”

Anil Kalhan, an immigration-law professor at Drexel University, said he saw parallels between a lawsuit to block the travel ban — which also used Trump’s statements about immigration against him — and the DACA suit. He called the claims “reasonably strong” but said it was hard to predict what could happen next: “This is somewhat uncharted territory.”

“What they certainly can do is delay the ultimate withdrawal of DACA,” Kalhan said. “The effect litigation could have is to just delay things, and allow more time to wrestle with a legislative solution.”

Shapiro wrote in the suit that 87 percent of Pennsylvania’s 5,889 DACA recipients are employed, generate more than $357 million in the state economy, and contribute more than $20 million in state and local taxes.

Shapiro said he was also concerned that information DACA recipients had shared with federal authorities  to claim their status could be used to deport them.

“The president had the option of announcing a desire to have comprehensive immigration reform, and putting an artificial timeline forth to Congress, and leaving DACA in place during that legislative debate,” he said. “Rescinding DACA while that debate occurs is unlawful.”

Though Sessions had slammed DACA that morning, Trump tweeted Tuesday night that he would “revisit” the issue if Congress couldn’t come up with a legislative fix. Shapiro said he wasn’t putting much stock in the president’s Twitter feed.

“I’ve learned not to put too much faith into what the president tweets, because most of the tweets are contradictory to one another and very few of them does he actually follow up and follow through on,” Shapiro said. “The only thing I’ve put my faith in is the rule of law, and that is the prism through which I’ve reviewed his DACA directive.”

Pennsylvania joins New York, Washington state, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia in the suit. It was filed in federal district court in New York.

Before Trump announced his decision, nine Republican attorneys general had threatened to sue if he didn’t rescind DACA. Shapiro said suing Trump — the state also joined a lawsuit to block the travel ban  this year — wasn’t a political decision. “I don’t sign on to every lawsuit,” he said. “I am very careful and deliberative about what I affix the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s good name to.”