'Dreamers' program illegal, US court rules
A woman holds up a signs in support of the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, during an immigration rally, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, at the White House in Washington. Trump aides said the president is still undecided about the program's fate. Jacquelyn Martin AP

A US federal judge on Friday dealt a fresh blow to an immigration program protecting undocumented migrants brought to the country as children, ruling it unlawful and blocking the enrollment of new applicants.

Instituted by former president Barack Obama in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) covers around 700,000 people known as Dreamers. For many, America is the only country they have ever known.

In his ruling, Judge Andrew Hanen of the United States District Court in Houston said Obama exceeded his authority when he instituted DACA by executive order.

The government must stop accepting people to the program, he said, though he added it could still receive applications.

He said the ruling did not require the Department of Homeland Security or Department of Justice to "take any immigration, deportation, or criminal action against any DACA recipient, applicant, or any other individual that it would not otherwise take."

The ruling also did not immediately affect the status of people already accepted to the program.

To apply for DACA protection -- which also allows the right to work -- applicants must have arrived in the United States before age 16.

Applicants must be in school or have a high school degree or equivalent, or have been honorably discharged from the military and have a clean criminal record.

In 2017, then-president Donald Trump tried to dismantle it on grounds that it was unconstitutional, triggering a lengthy court battle.

Challenges to the phase-out of the program eventually ended up on the nation's top court.

DACA survived and was reinstated last December.

Since taking office, President Joe Biden has looked to strengthen the program, as well as initiate wider immigration reform.

Democrats in Congress have pushed for legislation that would permanently settle the status of the childhood arrivals, but immigration policies have long stalled.

After Friday's ruling, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said: "Democrats call on Republicans in Congress to join us in respecting the will of the American people and the law, to ensure that Dreamers have a permanent path to citizenship."

© 2021 AFP