DHS approved DACA applications in violation of court order

Homeland Security’s legal immigration agency has admitted to a judge that it approved new DACA applications despite the court’s order halting that work.

Tracy Renaud, who was acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the time, said last week that it had just discovered two applications were approved as renewals, but in fact, they should have been treated as new applications and should have been blocked under Judge Andrew Hanen’s July ruling.

Those are in addition to nine other new applications found in late July that had been fully processed.

Ms. Renaud, who is now the acting deputy director at USCIS, also said the agency advanced more than 600 initial DACA applications after the judge’s order. None of those were ultimately approved, Ms. Renaud said in a declaration filed with Judge Hanen.

The Biden administration insisted it has used “an abundance of caution” in following the judge’s orders, but officials said the bungles happened “despite those efforts.”

“Moreover, in the limited number of instances where noncitizens have had their initial DACA requests inadvertently granted, USCIS has taken immediate corrective actions,” Justice Department lawyer James J. Walker said in a court filing accompanying Ms. Renaud’s declaration.

DACA grants illegal immigrant “Dreamers” an amnesty from deportation and awards them work permits. It was created in 2012 by the Obama administration through an executive branch memo.

Judge Hanen ruled that violated procedural law, which requires major policy changes to go through the full regulatory process with public comments and responses.

But with more than 600,000 Dreamers currently protected by DACA, he didn’t ax the program altogether. He issued an injunction that still allows them to remain protected and to apply every two years for renewals, but it blocks any new applications.

USCIS says that’s where things got tricky.

In the case of the two applications that were approved, the agency says they were processed as renewals but should have been treated as initial applications.

The more than 600 applications that were wrongly advanced involved appointments for the collection of fingerprints, which is part of the DACA process. Ms. Renaud said the applicants had scheduled those appointments before Judge Hanen’s ruling and despite USCIS’s effort to cancel the appearances, hundreds still showed up.

Ms. Renaud said the cases have all been put on hold.

Rob Law, former chief of the office of planning and strategy at USCIS, said it should have been easy for the agency to weed out applications that weren’t to be worked.

“If USCIS adjudicators are even looking at these initial requests, the system is flawed, and/or the political leadership is ordering them to violate the order,” said Mr. Law, who is now director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.

USCIS declined to comment beyond the declaration, citing a policy against talking about matters in litigation.

This is not the first time the agency has faced this kind of situation.

During the Obama years, the agency also processed DACA applications in violation of another ruling by Judge Hanen.

In that instance, about 2,600 three-year DACA permits were issued, even though Judge Hanen had issued an injunction in 2015.

Judge Hanen at the time said the administration was taking a “cavalier” approach, which sent USCIS scrambling to demand back all of the permits. Officers were even ordered to go door-to-door if need be to take them back.

USCIS did not address the reasons for the repeat violation six years later.

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