Attorney General James Takes Action to Protect Dreamers and DACA Program

AG James Leads Coalition of 23 Attorneys General to Urge Appeals Court to Reverse Lower Court Decision Ending DACA Program

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today co-led a multistate coalition of 23 attorneys general against Texas’ ongoing effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In the amicus brief filed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the coalition urges the court to reverse the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas’ decision that the DACA program is unauthorized by law. The DACA program has allowed over 800,000 recipients to live, study, and work across the United States free from the fear of being forcibly separated from their families and communities. 

“No American should fear being forced from their home and loved ones because of their immigration status,” said Attorney General James. “We are a nation built by immigrants, and everyone should have access to the American dream. In New York and states around the country, DACA grantees are our first responders, healthcare workers, teachers, and more, and our communities flourish because of them. Ending this program will tear families apart and remove hardworking Americans from their homes. I am proud to lead my fellow attorneys general in this tireless effort to keep our residents safe.”  

Since 2012, more than 825,000 young immigrants have been granted DACA protections after completing applications and passing a background check, including nearly 41,000 New Yorkers. DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, come from almost every country in the world, but many have never known any home other than the United States. The program has enabled hundreds of thousands of grantees to enroll in colleges and universities; start businesses that help improve our economy; serve in the military; and give back to our communities as teachers, medical professionals, engineers, and entrepreneurs. These contributions became even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic as tens of thousands of DACA recipients continued to serve their communities as essential workers and frontline healthcare professionals. 

DACA plays a vital role in supporting our economies at the national, state, and local level. DACA recipients and their households are estimated to contribute approximately $9.5 billion in federal, state, and local taxes each year. A full rollback of DACA is projected to result in a loss of an estimated $280 billion in national economic growth over the course of a decade. It would also lead to an estimated loss of $33.1 billion in Social Security contributions and $7.7 billion in Medicare contributions — funds that are critical to ensuring the financial health of these national programs upon which people across the country rely. In addition, the spending power of DACA recipients — estimated at $25.3 billion annually — contributes substantially to the overall economic health of the nation. DACA recipients own homes, make mortgage payments, own small businesses, and help support the creation of new jobs. 

The case before the Fifth Circuit is a result of a lawsuit brought by Texas and eight other states seeking to end the DACA program entirely. In October 2022, the Fifth Circuit upheld a decision from the district court finding that the 2012 executive memorandum creating the DACA program was unlawful but sent the case back to the lower court to consider the validity of a new regulation codifying the policy. In September 2023, the Southern District of Texas again declared the program unlawful.

Attorney General James and the coalition of 23 attorneys general support the federal government’s argument that DACA is a lawful exercise of Executive Branch authority and does not violate the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The coalition also argues that the district court erred in deciding to vacate DACA in its entirety rather than severing any portions deemed unlawful. In addition, the amicus brief states that the district court’s decision failed to give DHS and Congress enough time to implement any remedial action necessary to address the court’s legal conclusions. Finally, the amicus brief notes the numerous ways in which state and local governments benefit from and rely on the existence of the DACA program.

Attorney General James has been at the forefront of the fight for the preservation of DACA and to support the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who rely on it. In March 2023, Attorney General James co-led a coalition to fight Texas’ effort to end the DACA program in district court. In 2017, former President Donald Trump ordered his administration to terminate the DACA program. This resulted in a prolonged legal battle with the issue landing at the U.S. Supreme Court in November 2019. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Attorney General James' arguments that the Trump Administration’s attempt to cancel the DACA policy was unlawful. In August 2020, Attorney General James co-led a coalition of 17 attorneys general in a lawsuit to vacate a memo from the then-Trump Administration U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that sought to make harmful changes to DACA. In December 2020, a federal district court issued a remedial order granting Attorney General James’ request for DHS to reopen DACA to first-time applicants, restore protections to a two-year period instead of one year, and make Advanced Parole available to DACA recipients again without restrictions. At the same time, Attorney General James has supported DACA in the present and ongoing lawsuit filed by Texas and several other states in 2018. In December 2021, Attorney General James co-led a coalition of 23 attorneys general to support DACA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Joining Attorney General James in filing today’s amicus brief are the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaiʻi, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.  

This matter is being handled by Assistant Solicitor General Grace X. Zhou, Deputy Solicitor General Ester Murdukhayeva, and Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood — all of the Division of Appeals and Opinions.