Young Immigrants Targeted by Texas Move to Protect Privacy

Immigration and civil rights groups have stepped in the middle of the fight over immigration between Texas and the Obama administration, appealing a lower court decision they say threatens their clients' privacy. The National Immigration Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU of Texas aim to protect the personal information of young immigrants who have been spared deportation thanks to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan.

Texas' challenge of a DACA expansion and a sister program that protects the parents of children eligible for deferred action — both enacted in 2014 — is being heard by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville. In May, Hanen concluded that the federal government may have improperly enrolled some ineligible immigrants into the program.  He ordered the feds to turn over the personal application information of more than 50,000 DACA applicants.

The civil rights groups are asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals to stop the data from being turned over. They claim Hanen's order could endanger the privacy and safety of immigrants if it becomes public.

“With these outrageous demands, Judge Hanen has unfairly and unnecessarily dragged a group of blameless individuals into this politically driven lawsuit, potentially compromising their privacy and safety with no legal justification,” Karen Tumlin, the National Immigration Law Center’s legal director, told reporters said Friday afternoon. Hanen has said that any information provided to the court would be sealed, but some could be released if Texas authorities demonstrated good cause.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the administration in 2015, claiming the White House had no congressional approval to expand DACA or establish the sister program. The expansion would shield more than 4.4 million immigrants from the threat of deportation, at least temporarily.

Hanen has ruled against the federal government consistently throughout the run-up to a potential trial. As things stand, only those originally protected by President Obama's DACA policy, which was enacted in 2012, are safe from being deported.   

Angelica Villalobos, a 31-year-old mother of four shielded from deportation thanks to DACA, said she felt she could be danger if her information wound up in the hands of anti-immigrant politicians or activists.

“At the end of the day,” Villalobos said. “I still have a right to privacy.”

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young