NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s administration didn’t offer “legally adequate reasons” for ending a program that spared many young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. as children, a judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis in Brooklyn said in a written order that the Republican president “indisputably” has the power to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program but relied on flawed legal positions in doing so.
He said he wanted to make clear that he was not ruling that rescinding DACA is unlawful or that the administration may not end the program. And he said his order does not require the government to grant any particular DACA applications or renewal requests.
The ruling came in lawsuits brought by immigration groups and 15 states and the District of Columbia.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said the order doesn’t change the government’s position on the facts, including that DACA was an “unlawful circumvention of Congress.”
“DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend these benefits to this same group of illegal aliens,” he said.
O’Malley added that the Department of Homeland Security “acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner” and looked forward to vindicating its position in future litigation.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said then-President Barack Obama’s decision to implement DACA was an unconstitutional exercise of authority.
Garaufis said the Trump administration relied on an “erroneous” belief the program was unconstitutional. His ruling mirrors one issued in San Francisco in January.
The judge ordered the government to let people already in the DACA program continue enjoying protections but declined to guarantee the program to new applicants.
Garaufis said the authority for his ruling stems from the Administrative Procedure Act, which lets parties harmed by federal agencies get judicial review of agency decisions when they are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or do not follow the law.
“The APA thus sometimes places courts in the formalistic, even perverse, position of setting aside action that was clearly within the responsible agency’s authority, simply because the agency gave the wrong reasons for, or failed to adequately explain, its decision,” the judge wrote.
He said new administrations may alter or abandon the policies of their predecessors even if policy shifts impose staggering personal, social and economic costs.
“The question before the court is thus not whether defendants could end the DACA program, but whether they offered legally adequate reasons for doing so. Based on its review of the record before it, the court concludes that defendants have not done so,” Garaufis said.
Garaufis said the decision to end the program appeared to rest exclusively on a legal conclusion that the program was unconstitutional and violated the APA and the Immigration and Nationality Act.
“Because that conclusion was erroneous, the decision to end the DACA program cannot stand,” he said.