Saturday, August 4, 2018
In his opinion in NAACP v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia John Bates reaffirmed his earlier decision that the Presidential Order rescinding the DACA program was unlawful. Recall that Judge Bates' decision in April rested on an application of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) finding that the decision by DHS to rescind DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, covering 800,000 people in the United States who are not citizens but who have been residents since childhood, was "arbitrary and capricious" because the Department failed adequately to explain its conclusion that the program was unlawful. Judge Bates stated that "neither the meager legal reasoning nor the assessment of litigation risk provided by DHS to support its rescission decision is sufficient to sustain termination of the DACA program."
Judge Bates stayed the ruling, providing the United States Government 90 days to remedy the inadequacies of its rescission decision. The Government relied on a new Memorandum from Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen, but Judge Bates found that while the “Nielsen Memo”
purports to offer further explanation for DHS’s decision to rescind DACA, it fails to elaborate meaningfully on the agency’s primary rationale for its decision: the judgment that the policy was unlawful and unconstitutional. And while the memo offers several additional “policy” grounds for DACA’s rescission, most of these simply repackage legal arguments previously made, and hence are “insufficiently independent from the agency’s evaluation of DACA’s legality” to preclude judicial review or to support the agency’s decision. Finally, the memo does offer what appears to be one bona fide (albeit logically dubious) policy reason for DACA’s rescission, but this reason was articulated nowhere in DHS’s prior explanation for its decision, and therefore cannot support that decision now.
The "bona fide" but "logically dubious" rationale is a sentence in Secretary Nielsen's Memo that expresses a
judgment that DACA’s benefits—whatever they may be—are outweighed by the fact that, in Secretary Nielsen’s view, the policy encourages noncitizen children and their parents to enter the United States illegally. Of course, this rationale is not without its logical difficulties: after all, DACA is available only to those individuals who have lived in the United States since 2007, so the “tens of thousands of minor aliens” who Secretary Nielsen asserts have illegally entered the United States “in recent years” would not even be eligible under the program.
Yet for Judge Bates, this is improperly post-hoc and cannot rescue the DACA rescission from being arbitrary and capricious under the APA.
While other judges have reached the constitutional issues ( Recall that in February Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York granted a preliminary injunction against the rescission of DACA and also recall that Judge Alsup of the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction in January which the government is appealing), Judge Bates explicitly does not, stating that the decision does not hold "that DHS lacks the statutory or constitutional authority to rescind the DACA program," but only if it does so, it must provide a "rational explanation for its decision" under the APA rather than a "conclusory assertion that a prior policy is illegal, accompanied by a hodgepodge of illogical or post hoc policy assertions."
In an interesting footnote, Judge Bates notes there is an ongoing debates regarding "the propriety of so-called nationwide injunctions," but then states that this "debate is not implicated here" because the court "is vacating an agency action pursuant to the APA, as opposed to enjoining it as a violation of the Constitution or other applicable law. " Judge Bates did continue the stay of the injunction, however, for an additional 20 days to allow the government to appeal.