A federal court judge on Tuesday pondered President Donald Trump’s anti-Latino comments while hearing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s motion to protect beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Justice Nicholas Garaufis said at a Brooklyn hearing that Trump’s commentary has been “vicious” and said the comments could be evidence that the decision to rescind the program in September was motivated by Trump’s “animus” toward Latinos, violating the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
“In this country, in over 230 years, this is not ordinary,” Garaufis said, referring to statements Trump has made on Twitter and elsewhere. “It’s extreme. It’s recurring. It’s vicious.”
Garaufis said he would consider whether the means of ending the program are arbitrary and capricious, as the plaintiffs seek an injunction on ending it.
U.S. Justice Department lawyer Stephen Pezzi told Garaufis it would be going too far to conclude that, because Trump had commented about Latinos in the past, any action by his administration that disproportionately affected Latinos was unconstitutional.
Karen Tumlin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued that the administration had violated federal law by abruptly cutting off DACA with little explanation. Pezzi countered that the administration had ordered an “orderly wind-down” of DACA. Under Trump’s action, DACA is set to expire in March
Garaufis is presiding over a lawsuit brought by several DACA recipients and by states including New York, Massachusetts and Washington. They are asking Garaufis to issue an injunction preserving DACA. Garaufis did not issue a ruling on Tuesday or say when he would.
Schneiderman and a coalition of 16 other attorneys general filed the lawsuit in September to protect the DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, arguing ending the program would harm and put undue burden on states. A second suit brought by six DACA recipients as plaintiffs was also heard Tuesday.
Schneiderman said the hearing was “thorough,” and vowed to continue the fight for Dreamers.
“I represent New Yorkers. Our Dreamers are New Yorkers,” he said. “We will never back down from that position . . . these are people who work and play by the rules.”
Schneiderman said Dreamers who work in places like state hospitals benefit those all over New York.
“The core of this really is the lack of proper process, the lack of fairness, the lack of consideration of issues that the government is required to consider before shutting down a massive program — a massive, successful program like this,” he said.
Martín Batalla Vidal, 27, came to the country from Mexico when he was only 7 years old. A DACA recipient who lives in Ridgewood and works at a rehab center for patients with traumatic brain injuries, heart attacks, and strokes, Vidal is the lead plaintiff in the case.
“I’m in limbo at the moment,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Batalla Vidal, who was visibly emotional after the hearing, said DACA allowed him “to come out of the shadows” and claim his status as undocumented.
“We cannot wait for Congress to find a solution for us Dreamers,” he said. “Even though we may not be born here, we consider [ourselves] Americans, New Yorkers. We’ve been here all our lives. Going back to our country is a country we don’t know.”
The program covers about 800,000 people who were brought to the country illegally as children.
Last month, a judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked the administration from ending the Obama-era program, and ordered the government to continue processing renewal applications.
Schneiderman said that the plaintiffs in the New York case were seeking an order covering people who became eligible for DACA since Trump’s September action, while California judge William Alsup’s order covered only people already with DACA protection.