The Department of Homeland Security approved at least nine DACA applications and advanced dozens of others in violation of a judge’s order pausing work on much of the program, department officials acknowledged in court filings last week.
Tracy Renaud, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the breaches resulted from “human error” and cases already in the system.
She said the agency rushed to claw back approvals in violation of the order and halted the applications of 52 other Dreamers who were allowed to submit biometrics. The biometrics also breached Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s order.
All of the breaches took place from July 17 to July 19, in the days immediately after Judge Hanen ruled that the Obama administration created the 2012 DACA program illegally.
Ms. Renaud said the agency found no other applications that slipped through the system.
“USCIS believes that the technological and systematic solutions described … will provide a stopgap to prevent the issuance of new initial DACA grants,” she told Judge Hanen.
“The government regrets the error,” Justice Department attorneys said in their own filing with the judge.
Of the nine full approvals, Ms. Renaud said, one was caught before documents went out the door. The other eight Dreamers will be notified of the government’s error and that the deportation amnesty they thought they had is invalid.
The acting director said no employment authorization cards, perhaps the most critical part of DACA, had been issued in any of the cases.
Judge Hanen found that the Obama administration cut too many procedural corners in establishing DACA. His ruling said the major policy should have gone through the full regulatory process and not been imposed by executive memo.
The man who oversaw the implementation of DACA was Alejandro Mayorkas, at the time director of USCIS. He is now the homeland security secretary.
Rosemary Jenks, vice president at NumbersUSA, has tracked USCIS’s work for years and said the human error explanation is hollow.
“Both Secretary Mayorkas and acting Director Renaud are responsible for ensuring that every employee is in compliance with legal rulings. Their failure to do so is not surprising considering their willingness to also ignore laws enacted by Congress,” she said.
USCIS, citing a policy against commenting on matters in court, declined to answer questions about the bungle.
The agency did not respond to a follow-up inquiry asking for a copy of the notice sent to the Dreamers whose approvals were revoked.
DACA, whose full name is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, grants amnesty from deportation and issues work permits to illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as juveniles, have been in the country since 2007, have kept relatively clean rap sheets and have worked toward education.
More than 600,000 illegal immigrants are protected.
Judge Hanen’s order allows anyone with current DACA protections to apply for renewal but halts new applications. That was where the USCIS bungled.
The breach is startlingly similar to the 2,500 three-year grants that USCIS issued in 2015 after Judge Hanen halted an expansion of DACA protections from two to three years.
Judge Hanen raked the government attorneys and Homeland Security for a “cavalier attitude” toward his ruling. At one point, he demanded that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and his top lieutenants in immigration services appear personally to answer for their behavior.
To avoid that showdown, Homeland Security scrambled to claw back the wrongly issued three-year passes.
Robert Law, who served as chief of the office of policy and strategy at USCIS in the Trump administration, said the breaches were striking because they benefited only illegal immigrants.
“The errors only go one direction and reflect a culture of the political leadership to have adjudicators rush to ‘Yes’ on all applications and petitions,” said Mr. Law, who now serves as head of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.
USCIS could face more scrutiny from Judge Hanen.
In her filing, Ms. Renaud said the agency considers renewals of DACA to include Dreamers who let their protections lapse within a year. The government said it would continue that long-standing practice, though officials figured they should make the judge aware.