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News Human Rights

Advocates Petition Court to Defend Privacy Rights of Undocumented Immigrants

Tina Vasquez

The action is about protecting the basic constitutional privacy rights of those who received three-year work authorization permits, according to the ACLU of Texas.

The National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Texas filed on Friday a petition for writ of mandamus before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of four people affected by a court order requiring the Department of Justice (DOJ) to turn over the personal information of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants by June 10.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, expressed concern in a press release that this information would be “used against them” because the court order would place the personal information of thousands of undocumented young people directly in the hands of the state officials who oppose protections for undocumented immigrants.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who issued the court order, led the charge on obstructing the implementation of DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), announced in 2014. In February of 2015, Hanen issued a temporary injunction to the 26 states challenging President Obama’s executive action on immigration in 2014, and in a later ruling denied the DOJ’s request for a stay of the preliminary injunction. Later, the DOJ petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the case after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with Hanen’s ruling. An opinion in that case, United States v. Texas, is expected this month.

Like DACA—which enables undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 and who meet other requirements, to receive a renewable work permit and exemption from deportation for two yearsDAPA offers similar benefits to undocumented parents with U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident children. However, neither DACA nor DAPA offers a pathway to citizenship.

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The four DACA recipients who are the subject of the petition were able to remain in the country for two years when DACA was implemented in 2012. When their permissions were set to run out in the fall of 2014, they sought extensions at the same time the Obama administration announced its DACA expansion, which lengthened work authorization permits from two to three years. While DACA in its original form, as announced in 2012, is still in place, it is this expansion that is being contested in the Supreme Court case.

The four DACA recipients in the petition reapplied and received three-year extensions. They are just four of the estimated 108,000 young, undocumented immigrants who benefited nationwide from the DACA expansion between November 2014 and February 2015, before Hanen issued a preliminary injunction on both DAPA and the DACA expansion, ordering the government to rescind the three-year permits.

On May 19, Hanen ordered the Justice Department to disclose the names, addresses, and other identifiers of the estimated 50,000 DACA recipients residing in the 26 states involved in United States v. Texas and who benefited from the short-lived DACA expansion. The SCOTUSblog reports that the judge handed down this order last month “to punish the government for what [Hanen] found to be intentional ethical misconduct in his court by two Justice Department lawyers when the immigration case was before him earlier,” though the lawyers contend “the ethics dispute arose mainly from misunderstandings between the judge and the lawyers about just what was at stake, and not from a ploy by government lawyers to mislead the court.”

The judge said the list would remain sealed until the Supreme Court issues a decision, but afterwards states could request information on the list be given to authorities if they could prove the information “would minimize or prevent harm in that state.”

The writ of mandamus petition filed by the three civil rights organizations enables the DACA recipients affected by the order to request for a stay of the order. And as SCOTUSblog reported, “Since that data is supposed to be filed by next Friday, the four individuals asked that the Circuit Court decide on their challenges by Wednesday so that they ‘may seek further review if necessary’—apparently, an indication that they would go on to the Supreme Court if the Circuit Court were to turn them down.”

This action is about protecting the basic constitutional privacy rights of those who received three-year work authorization permits, according to the ACLU of Texas.

“The rights embodied in our Constitution were designed to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, including young immigrants who only know this country as their own,” Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a press release. “If their fundamental privacy protections can be nullified by the stroke of a judge’s pen in a case to which they are not parties, then everyone’s privacy rights are threatened.”

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