California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the Trump administration Monday morning, saying the president's decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is unconstitutional and violates the rights of the hundreds of thousands young people who were promised legal protection under the Obama-era program.
DACA, created by former President Barack Obama in 2012, allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to study and work in the country without fear of deportation. Known as "Dreamers," one in four of the young men and women who benefited from DACA live in California.
Becerra was flanked by two of these Dreamers Monday morning, young women who have been able to study and work because of DACA.
The attorney general made an emotional plea at a news conference announcing the lawsuit by California, Minnesota, Maine and Maryland this morning. California's action comes a few days after 15 states and the District of Columbia filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn. The University of California also filed a DACA lawsuit Friday.
"In this country, I have never seen a case where we tell children that we are going to punish them for acts that they were not responsible for," Becerra said as Eva Jimenez and Rosa Barrientos stood on either side of him.
"When you hear their stories, you can see what it means to have the opportunity to come out of the shadows," he said.
Becerra noted that both women were brought to the U.S. at age four -- Barrientos said she didn't even know she was undocumented until she was asked for her social security number as part of a college prep program.
"In this country, they have done everything we would consider to be right, they are doing things the right way, and I think it is incumbent upon all of us, especially those we consider leaders, to do the right thing as well," Becerra said. "That's why we have decided to file lawsuit."
The lawsuit rests on several legal arguments, including violation of equal protection and due process since Dreamers revealed personal information that the federal government could now use to deport them. Becerra said the case also relies on a principal of law known as "equitable estoppel," aimed at preventing one party from being harmed by the others' conduct -- again, since Dreamers handed over sensitive personal information under the pretense that the government would protect them.
"If you reach out to the American people and you tell them they can rely on your representations to do something that would otherwise be in their detriment, you can't just pull back," Becerra said. "We don't bait and switch in this country -- we don't tell people one thing then put them in harm's way by having them come forward and do what's right."
Becerra said Trump's decision also violates federal statutes that require the government to follow certain procedures before changing regulations, and to consider the harm that could be done to businesses. In general, he stressed the potential economic and public safety impacts of rescinding DACA, saying California's success is in part due to Dreamers.
California is home to about 200,000 DACA recipients, more than any other state, and more than all of the 16 other jurisdictions that filed their lawsuit last week combined.
UC Hastings law professor David Levine said California's suit is similar to the other two filed last week, though New York's complaint focused more on allegations that the president was motivated by animus toward Mexicans.
Levine said he thinks there's a real due process case to be made when it comes to the information provided to the government by people who applied for DACA protections -- but that if the courts buy that argument, it wouldn't necessarily preserve the program.
"I think these plaintiffs are on very strong ground, with the idea that it would be really unfair ... for the government to be able to use information collected when they applied for DACA status," he said, noting that the Trump administration said last week that it wouldn't automatically hand all that information over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- but if ICE asked for information about certain people, it could be shared.
"I suspect that all the judges will be very sympathetic to the argument that that information shouldn't be used (by ICE)," he said.
Levine said there's not a legal reason for multiple lawsuits, but it does allow plaintiffs to "hedge their bets" with different courts. He said it's likely that the UC and California cases could be grouped together by the courts.
Barrientos, one of the young women who joined Becerra at the announcement, said Obama created the DACA program on the day she graduated from high school. Now, she's a senior at Sacramento State University, set to graduate in December.
She said she's again plagued by uncertainty -- but she has hope.
"I don't know what's going to come of my life, I don't know if I am going to be able to go to that career path I want to," Barrientos said. "But regardless of fear I feel, standing here with Attorney General Xavier Becerra, I have a lot of faith that something great is going to happen ... I have a lot of faith knowing there are a lot of people that are going to fight for me to have those wings I had with DACA."