Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday told recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that the Biden administration will take “action” in response to a court ruling that determined the 2012 program is illegal and she renewed calls for Congress to pass a pathway to citizenship.

“The President and I, needless to say… are unequivocal that we recognize you for the Americans that you are, and that we recognize that you deserve all the rights that come with American citizenship,” she said during a meeting with DACA recipients in her office. “And so we will be tireless in fighting for a pathway to citizenship.”

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DACA was established under the Obama administration in 2012 and granted protection from deportation and work permits to illegal immigrants who came to the country as minors. Approximately 700,000 are estimated to have been granted protection under the program, and hundreds of thousands more are deemed eligible.

The program was dealt a blow Friday when a Texas judge, Andrew Hanen, ordered the Biden administration to stop all approvals for DACA, ruling that the Obama-era program was illegal.

Hanen, in a split ruling, found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in creating the policy. He found that the policy was implemented unlawfully and ordered DHS to stop approving DACA applications, although he said it could continue to accept applications. The ruling does not affect the status of any current DACA recipients. 

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The judge found that the agency’s interpretation of statutes was “overly broad” and those laws did not carry the authority for the federal government to institute the program.

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“DACA would grant lawful presence and work authorization to over a million people for whom Congress had made no provision and has consistently refused to make such a provision,” Hanen wrote.

The Biden administration said it would appeal the ruling, while the Department of Homeland Security said it will engage in rulemaking to protect the program.

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“[O]ur administration is taking action,” Harris said Thursday. “So, through the United States Department of Justice, we have announced our intention to appeal the decision, and that is in process. And the Department of Homeland Security has announced that it will propose a new rule concerning DACA, which is very important because that’s about the enforcement piece.”

Harris also renewed her calls for Congress to create a pathway to citizenship for both those eligible for DACA and other groups of illegal immigrants such as farmworkers.

“The President and I have repeatedly called on Congress to pass the bipartisan American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workers Protection and Modernization Act.  And we need Congress to finally create a pathway towards citizenship,” she said. “I spoke with Sen. [Dick] Durbin last night about this very topic, and we stand in solidarity on this issue – which is we will not give up in this fight.”

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Her comments come as Democrats in Congress are looking to include pathways to citizenship in a budget reconciliation bill that would not need to overcome a Republican filibuster and therefore could be passed by Democratic voters alone.

“This is about what is morally right,” Harris said on Thursday of a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. “This is a reflection of who we say we are as a country.”

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