Josh Stein and other AGs taking Trump to court over DACA decision

NC Attorney General Josh Stein joins a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
NC Attorney General Josh Stein joins a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. N&O file photo

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has joined a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s plans to rescind the executive order that protected young immigrants from deportation even if they did not have documentation authorizing them to live in the United States.

Stein is one of 15 attorneys general, all Democrats, fighting in federal court the plan to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that former President Barack Obama started in 2012.

“Ending DACA isn’t just cruel to Dreamers, against our American values, and the wrong thing to do for our nation’s economy, it also violates our Constitution,” Stein said in a statement shortly after the lawsuit was filed in the federal Eastern District of New York. “I will do everything in my power to restore DACA for the tens of thousands of young people in North Carolina who rely on it – including fighting for them in court.”

Young immigrants who were eligible for DACA were brought to the United States illegally as children or came with families who overstayed visas.

The lawsuit was filed in New York and argues that the action violates equal protection and due process rights and harms institutions and businesses in the states. It asks the court to block the government from using any information provided by DACA applicants and recipients to identify, apprehend, detain or deport any of them or their family members.

Stein’s action brought criticism from the North Carolina Republican Party’s executive director, Dallas Woodhouse.

“I think it is disappointing, but no longer shocking, that Josh Stein, in his role as the chief law enforcement officer for the state of North Carolina, thumbs his nose at the rule of law,” Woodhouse said. “This is not a question … of what should happen to certain individuals. It’s a question of constitutionality and separation of powers.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the program – which allowed 27,000 North Carolina residents enrolled in it to work, go to school, get driver’s licenses and Social Security cards without fear of deportation – will end. Nationwide, the program offered protections to some 800,000 residents.

Other states involved include New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Mexico, Illinois, Hawaii, Oregon, Rhode Island, Delaware, Virginia, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Washington and Iowa, as well as the District of Columbia.

Washington’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, grew emotional as he described the lawsuit at a news conference on Wednesday.

“It’s outrageous. … It’s not right,” Ferguson said. “As attorney general for the state of Washington, I fortunately have a hammer. It’s the law. ... Put yourself in their shoes. You’re a Dreamer. Our country is going to deport you back to a country you may not even know? Can it be more cruel than that? Honestly – it doesn’t make any damn sense.”

In their lawsuit, the attorneys general note that more than 78 percent of DACA recipients are of Mexican origin.

“Ending DACA, whose participants are mostly of Mexican origin, is a culmination of President’s 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,” the lawsuit contends. “The consequence of the President’s animus-driven decision is that approximately 800,000 persons who have availed themselves of the program will ultimately lose its protections, and will be exposed to removal when their authorizations expire and they cannot seek renewal.”

In his announcement on Tuesday in which Sessions referred to the DACA recipients as “illegal aliens,” Trump’s attorney general outlined a six-month wind-down for the policy and pushed the issue to Congress to find a legislative solution.

The DACA program was launched by Obama after a decade of failed attempts in Congress to adopt the Dream Act. Sessions described the Obama action as an “unconstitutional” step beyond his executive authority.

Barely eight hours after Sessions made the announcement, Trump sent out a tweet.

“Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do),” the message said. “If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”

Though the federal government told DACA applicants and recipients that it would not use their personal information and fingerprints on file to conduct enforcement measures, the lawsuit further states, a memorandum issued by the federal Department of Homeland Security “does not explain how the government will keep that information secure, nor does it provide any assurances that immigration enforcement agents will not use such information to find and remove those who applied for DACA.”

“The individuals who have relied on DACA are now more vulnerable to removal than before the program was initiated, as they turned over sensitive information to the federal government in their applications,” the lawsuit states.

North Carolina’s case

The lawsuit focuses on harms that each attorney general predicts will happen in their states if DACA protections are rescinded.

“Immigration is a vital catalyst to North Carolina’s economy,” the lawsuit states.

It further outlines the steady increase in the state’s immigrant population since 1990, growing to 7.6 percent in 2014, according to a study conducted by the Latino Migration Project at UNC-Chapel Hill, from 1.7 percent.

“This demographic change is due, in large part, to industries’ recruitment of foreign-born individuals, primarily of Latin American origin to fill available jobs that have been created as a result of the expansion of North Carolina’s economy,” the lawsuit states, noting that a Pew Research Center report in 2015 estimated that 350,000 people, or nearly 44 percent of North Carolina’s immigrant population, did not have legal immigration status.

The lawsuit states that North Carolina has one of the “largest undocumented high school populations in the country,” saying nearly 31,000 of the students enrolled in 2015 did not have the paperwork authorizing them to live in the United States.

Many of those students who have received DACA status have enrolled in colleges and universities and contributed to the tax base. Ending the program might force some of those students to leave high school and institutions of higher learning.

Since his election last year as North Carolina’s attorney general, Stein has worked with others across the country urging Trump to maintain and defend DACA. In July, he signed a letter to the president written by some of the attorneys general who filed the lawsuit.

“All across North Carolina, DACA is helping children meet their potential,” Stein said at the time. “When children meet their potential, we all benefit through innovation, economic activity, and stronger communities. Protecting these children now will have significant benefits in the future.”

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1