San Jose is joining a national fight to protect undocumented residents as a federal court gets ready to once again deliberate the decade-old DACA program.
The San Jose City Council unanimously voted this week to join the Los Angeles city and county’s legal brief that claims dismantling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, would be costly and catastrophic for local families. The legal brief is in response to a federal case that is heading back to the Southern District of Texas court after years of ruling challenges whether the program, which protects the children of undocumented immigrants from deportation, is lawful.
The Los Angeles brief is expected to be submitted in early March, a month before U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen is set to make his final decision.
José Servin, a DACA recipient for 11 years, said he’s worried he will lose his work permit if DACA is rescinded, impacting his ability to provide for his partner and 1-year-old daughter. Servin is also a spokesman for SIREN, a nonprofit that provides advocacy and services for immigrants.
“It’s a very emotional time where our livelihoods are under attack. My biggest fear is being separated from my family and put into these torturous detention centers,” Servin told San José Spotlight. “But statements of support like this do provide a sense of relief. That we’ve got some sort of legislative support.”
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said the prospect of eliminating DACA protections is “horrifying,” especially as San Jose houses nearly 9,000 DACA recipients. There are roughly 600,000 Dreamers nationwide, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and more than 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“San Jose proudly stands with Dreamers and we will do our part to defend DACA, which protects our neighbors, friends and co-workers who are just as American as you or me,” Mahan told San Jose Spotlight. “We’re talking about young people who in many cases literally know no other country.”
DACA was launched in 2012 under former President Barack Obama’s administration. It protects recipients from deportation and allows them to apply for work permits, drivers licenses and social security numbers. Applicants must reapply every two years to retain their status. It doesn’t guarantee a pathway to citizenship.
Since its inception, the program has faced legal threats. In September 2017, San Jose filed a lawsuit challenging acting Department of Homeland Security Elaine Duke’s decision to rescind DACA without going through the proper steps. The lawsuit was consolidated with similar cases filed by the Regents of the University of California, New York and Washington D.C. It ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court which found the rescission was unlawful.
The Supreme Court ruled to uphold DACA in 2020 after former President Donald Trump tried to dismantled it. In response, Texas and eight other states filed lawsuits claiming the program’s costs are a heavy a toll on each state. In 2021, Judge Hanen declared the implementation of DACA to be unlawful. His ruling was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Oct. 2022. The decision blocked the government from approving first-time DACA applications, but allowed current recipients to continue in the program.
Now it’s going back to Hanen on appeal to determine whether the Biden administration’s codification of DACA into law protects the program and makes it legal.
Martiza Maldanado, executive director of nonprofit Amigos de Guadalupe, said she has more faith in local leaders to protect undocumented residents than federal leaders. San Jose has taken measures to protect undocumented residents such as preventing police officers from asking about immigration status. City leaders have also considered allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections.
Ceasar Bautista, an immigration attorney for Amigos de Guadalupe, said having San Jose sign onto the brief could sway the judge’s decision in April.
“It’s a clear sign of solidarity that shows the leadership of San Jose stands behind (Dreamers),” said Bautista, who is also a DACA recipient. “It would also show a clear light to the judge that contrary to Texas, those who receive DACA are actually a net benefit to our cities or states. I will find it hard to believe that it will not have some impact on the court’s ruling.”
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