Washington state officials made good Wednesday on their threats to sue over President Donald Trump’s plan to end protections for young immigrants, joining a multistate lawsuit that decries the administration’s action as illegal and unconstitutional.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, announced Washington state was joining 14 other states and Washington, D.C. in a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Since 2012, the DACA program has protected about 800,000 young immigrants nationwide from being deported, giving those so-called “Dreamers” two-year work permits that allow them to work legally in the United States. The program is available to certain immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration is rescinding DACA and won’t accept new applications, while limiting renewals to those whose permits are expiring in the next six months.
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At a news conference Wednesday announcing the lawsuit, Ferguson called the federal government’s decision to end the program “arbitrary and capricious.”
About 18,000 young immigrants in Washington state are benefiting from the program, officials said.
“Put yourself in their shoes — you’re a Dreamer,” Ferguson said. “Our country is going to deport you back to a country you might not even know? Can it be more cruel than that, honestly?”
He added: “As cruel as it is, it is importantly, however, also unlawful. And that’s what this lawsuit is all about.”
Ferguson said the federal government can’t suddenly claim the DACA program is illegal and end the program without going through the proper process.
“We have had months, years, of assertions that DACA is legal from the federal government,” Ferguson said. “No court has said it is illegal.
“The federal government cannot without any process at all claim that is no longer the case.”
Another part of the lawsuit alleges that Trump’s action to end the program is motivated by racial discrimination. At the press conference, Ferguson cited how “the president has made numerous statements on the campaign trail and in office disparaging Mexicans.”
Nearly 80 percent of DACA recipients are of Mexican descent, Ferguson said.
“Ask yourself one question: If the overwhelming majority of Dreamers were Caucasian, does anybody really think this president would have taken the action he took yesterday?” Ferguson asked reporters.
The lawsuit also raises concerns over how DACA participants’ personal information might be used. Ferguson said there is the potential that DACA participants’ information could be used to initiate deportation proceedings against them, a situation he said violates their due process rights and breaks the promises the federal government made to them.
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“Yesterday’s announcement makes no assurances that that information will not be used against them or their families, and that is not right,” Ferguson said.
Cinthia Illan Vazquez, a 23-year-old DACA recipient from Lakewood, said that’s one fear she and others have been living with since Trump took office. Illan Vazquez, who came to the United States from Mexico at the age of 6, said she worries she is now vulnerable to being placed in a detention center or deported.
“We’re not entirely sure how this database of information of 800,000 individuals is going to be used,” she said.
Obama created the DACA program through an executive order, which critics have blasted as an unlawful act that circumvented the authority of Congress.
Earlier this year, a group of Republican attorneys general and a Republican governor threatened to sue over that issue, promising legal action if the Trump Administration didn’t announce plans phase out the program.
The deadline the conservative group gave for the administration to avoid legal action was Tuesday. That same day, Sessions announced the DACA program would end.
In his remarks about ending the DACA program Tuesday, Sessions echoed the arguments made by the Republican attorneys general.
“Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch,” Sessions said of Obama’s DACA order.
Also on Tuesday, Trump indicated he won't sign a measure to extend DACA unless it includes other administration priorities on immigration, notably building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and reducing the number of green cards available to legal immigrants.
On Wednesday, Inslee called revoking the DACA program a “con” that was being played on the DACA recipients.
Inslee said the president should push Congress to immediately pass a no-strings-attached law to protect immigrants covered by the DACA program, instead of tying the measure to other proposed policy overhauls.
“The president wants to hold these Dreamers hostage in the not-always-enlightened halls of Congress,” Inslee said. “...I’m here to say these people should be treated better than being hostages.”
Ferguson and Inslee have made a habit out of challenging Trump.
Earlier this year, Ferguson successfully sued to halt implementation of the president’s travel ban and has since challenged the administration on several other fronts, including environmental policies.
Ferguson said Wednesday that his agency’s successful track record in court against the Trump administration gives him confidence that the state also would prevail in its latest lawsuit.
Ray Corona, a 25-year-old DACA recipient from Seattle, said he is glad state officials are challenging the Trump administration’s plans to repeal Obama’s executive order.
Corona, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 9, said the program allowed him to legally work after he graduated from the University of Washington in 2013.
He said he is skeptical that members of Congress will take action to make the protections of the Obama administration permanent, but he hopes they do.
“There’s definitely many of us who are affected and have been contributing, and who really play a role in this society,” Corona said.