NEW YORK (AP) — A Greek-American federal judge in New York who’s hearing two lawsuits challenging the cancellation of a program protecting some young immigrants from deportation said Tuesday that he can’t ignore President Donald Trump’s “vicious” anti-immigrant statements.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis told Justice Department lawyers that Trump’s “drumbeat” of statements and tweets about immigrants from Mexico and other countries are relevant to the case.
“In this country, in over 230 years, this is not ordinary,” Garaufis said during the hearing. “It’s extreme. It’s recurring. It’s vicious.”
Garaufis is hearing lawsuits seeking to overturn the administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Judge Garaufis, the grandson of Greek immigrants, has spent nearly his whole life in Bayside, Queens. He began his career as a lawyer in the late 1970s, worked for the state attorney general and returned to private practice.
The plaintiffs say the decision to end the program was motivated by racial animus against Latinos and is not based on any rational justification.
“We don’t think the government has set out any rationale with clarity,” David Chen, a law student with Yale’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, told the judge.
Lawyers for the administration deny that the Republican president’s decision was motivated by hatred. They say the DACA program was legally flawed and is vulnerable to litigation from Texas and the nine other states that urged the Trump administration to rescind the program in a June letter.
“In the face of the litigation risk it was decided to wind down the program,” Justice Department lawyer Stephen Pezzi said in court.
Trump has expressed sympathy for immigrants covered by the DACA program, who are often called Dreamers, and advocates hope the program will be renewed as part an immigration deal negotiated between the White House and Congress.
Further complicating the issue, a federal judge in San Francisco issued an order Jan. 9 keeping DACA in place. The plaintiffs in the New York case say the California order does not cover people who became eligible to apply for the program after Trump acted to rescind it.
“Regardless of what is happening in Congress, regardless of what might be happening in other courts, we stand here asking that this court recognize the needs of these New Yorkers and all other Dreamers who are just like them around the country,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said after Tuesday’s hearing. “And we are asking for a decision as soon as possible because we can’t wait.”
The plaintiffs in New York include several DACA recipients and a consortium of states including New York, Washington and Massachusetts.
The plaintiffs are seeking to block enforcement of the order to end DACA. They also are seeking class-action status, which would extend the suit to represent all immigrants who qualify for the program. The government wants the lawsuits dismissed.
Plaintiff Carlos Vargas, who is 32, said he came to the United States at age 4. “I went to the public school system, I grew up here,” Vargas said before the hearing. “I contributed to this great nation. I am American in every way but one — on paper.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said after the hearing that DACA is “a massive and successful program that they’re trying to shut down.”
“We all benefit from the dreamers,” Schneiderman said. “In New York we value their contributions. We will not back off from fighting for them.”