Politics

State AG Becerra defends DACA lawsuit as neither wasted effort nor grandstanding

California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra responds to reporters' questions on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, in downtown Los Angeles. Becerra met with local immigrant advocates to discuss next steps in the defense of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The Trump administration announced last week that it will end the program in March.
California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra responds to reporters' questions on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, in downtown Los Angeles. Becerra met with local immigrant advocates to discuss next steps in the defense of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The Trump administration announced last week that it will end the program in March.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra met with immigrant advocates Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, discussing next steps in the defense of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The Trump administration last week rescinded the program, which lets roughly 800,000 young unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children live and work here legally. More than 200,000 live in California.

Becerra filed suit against the federal government Monday to block the program's termination, joined by three other states. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that the decision to end the program violates DACA recipients' due process rights.

After his meeting with advocates, Becerra took a few questions from reporters — including why the state decided to file its own lawsuit rather than join a similar lawsuit filed last week by 15 states and the District of Columbia arguing similar legal points. The University of California also filed suit last week.

Becerra said the other cases are strong ones, and suggested that there is strength in numbers. 

“I think there’s any number of great cases that are going to move forward," he said. "We are going to fight this on every front we can.”

Becerra also had a few words for DACA opponents who’ve dismissed the California lawsuit as grandstanding ahead of his election. Becerra, who was appointed earlier this year, is seeking election next year to a full term as attorney general.

“I am running for re-election [sic]," he said." I am also working as the attorney general for the state of California. I do what I need to do, what I believe is right.”

Becerra, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, addressed questions about why Congress has so far failed to act on versions of legislation known as the Dream Act, the proposal debated for years would create a path to permanent legal status for young, unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors.

“If you go back to 2010, Democrats did pass the Dream Act in the House of Representatives," he said. "We had a bipartisan vote. It went to the Senate, and by a majority, it would have passed, with 55 of 100 senators voting for it.”

But the legislation died in the Senate after a Republican-led filibuster required 60 votes. The measure failed to get enough "yes" votes, including from some Democrats. Subsequent attempts to pass the Dream Act have been unsuccessful.
 
Becerra did say that he is optimistic that a bipartisan compromise can be reached on a Dream Act this time around. There is legislation pending in Congress that would allow current DACA recipients to seek legal status along with other qualified young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for DACA recipients. The program ends on March 5. Those whose temporary deportation protection and work permits expire between now and then may apply for a final, two-year renewal by Oct. 5. No further renewals of DACA status will be allowed after that date.

Becerra and others at the meeting urged DACA recipients to act quickly if they are to renew, and to avoid unscrupulous immigration consultants and "notarios" who prey on immigrants. The U.S. Department of Justice maintains a list of recognized, free legal service providers, including several in Southern California.

Also on Tuesday, state leaders in Sacramento announced a plan that would set aside $20 million for immigrant legal services to help DACA recipients with their legal costs through One California, an immigrant integration program that provides funding to legal service nonprofits. An additional $10 million would go to state colleges and universities for financial aid for DACA recipients. The plan is set to go before a legislative committee.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, also reacting to the Trump administration's move to rescind DACA, directed the county on Tuesday to implement a one-year travel restriction on its employees to nine states, including Texas and Alabama. The states had threatened to sue the federal government if it did not phase out the young immigrant program.

The restriction applies to employees traveling on official business and provides for exemptions in the event of emergencies.

The supervisors also directed the county Office of Immigration Affairs to help DACA recipients to renew their work permits and deportation protection and to update county residents about their legal rights.

The Trump administration has called DACA a case of unconstitutional overreach by President Obama, who created the program in 2012 by executive action. President Trump is phasing out the program over six months, giving Congress time to act on the status of the young immigrants who could become subject to deportation in March.