Defending DACA: A Legal Analysis of Recent Developments in Immigration Law

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has once again found itself at the center of a heated legal battle, this time with the Biden administration defending the initiative against challenges led by GOP-controlled states in the Fifth Circuit. The crux of the dispute lies in whether these states have the standing to sue over the federal immigration enforcement policy based on alleged public costs.

In a significant legal development, the administration argued that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June established a precedent that states cannot challenge federal immigration policies based on "diffuse harms" such as the costs associated with providing services to program recipients. This position, articulated in the administration's opening brief, seeks to overturn a district court decision that found Biden's iteration of the DACA program unlawful.

The administration's defense of DACA underscores its compliance with the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Homeland Security Act, framing the program as a legitimate exercise of the Department of Homeland Security's authority to administer immigration laws. This perspective is rooted in decades of agency practice, which has been recognized and approved by both Congress and the Supreme Court, to grant deferred action and issue work authorization under similar circumstances.

Furthermore, the administration contends that the arguments put forth by Texas and the other states, including claims to "special solicitude" under the Administrative Procedure Act and allegations of incurring incidental costs from providing social services, were explicitly rejected by the Supreme Court in its June decision in United States v. Texas (Immigration Priorities).

The legal debate also touches on constitutional challenges, with the administration refuting Texas's claim that it has standing to bring such a challenge based on the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Haaland v. Brackeen. The administration argues that Texas's interpretation of its standing in this context is incorrect, and even if it were correct, there remains a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the state's assertion of labor-market injury due to DACA.

This legal contention traces back to 2018 when Texas, along with other states, sued the federal government to dismantle DACA, arguing that the executive branch, under President Obama, had overstepped its authority. Despite various legal hurdles and challenges, including rulings by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen and subsequent appeals, the Biden administration has continued to defend and attempt to strengthen DACA through rulemaking and public input, as required under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The ongoing legal saga surrounding DACA not only highlights the complexities of immigration law but also underscores the broader debates over executive authority, states' rights, and the scope of administrative discretion in enforcing immigration policies. As this case progresses through the appellate courts, it will undoubtedly have significant implications for the future of DACA, the lives of its recipients, and the broader landscape of immigration law in the United States.

For immigration attorneys and advocates, this case represents a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle to protect the rights of immigrants and uphold the principles of fairness and compassion that underpin the American legal system. As we continue to monitor developments in this case, it serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of legal expertise and advocacy in navigating the complex and often contentious realm of immigration law.


Micah Danney, "Feds Tell 5th Circ. Texas Has No Standing To Challenge DACA," Law360, January 26, 2024.

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