Carolyn Kaster / AP
Friday, March 30, 2018 | 2 a.m.
NEW YORK — Citing President Donald Trump’s “racially charged language,” a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled on Thursday that a lawsuit seeking to preserve a program that protects hundreds of thousands of young unauthorized immigrants from deportation could continue.
The order, by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, was the strongest sign so far of judicial support for the program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has for months been the subject of a heated debate in Congress.
In October, lawyers for the Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss the Brooklyn suit, claiming that the plaintiffs in the case — a coalition of immigration lawyers and a group of Democratic state attorneys general — had failed to make a persuasive case that DACA was rolled back in September because of racial animus toward Latinos.
But in his order rejecting the motion to dismiss, Garaufis pointed directly at Trump, noting that his numerous “racial slurs” and “epithets” — both as a candidate and from the White House — had created a “plausible inference” that the decision to end DACA violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
“One might reasonably infer,” Garaufis wrote, “that a candidate who makes overtly bigoted statements on the campaign trail might be more likely to engage in similarly bigoted action in office.”
In February, Garaufis issued an injunction ordering the Trump administration to keep DACA in place as he considered the legal merits of the suit. That injunction echoed a similar one issued in January by Judge William Alsup of U.S. District Court in San Francisco, who is hearing a separate but related suit.
The ruling on Thursday took the legal process in New York one step further, strongly hinting at what Garaufis thought about the suit’s central claims. It did not offer a conclusive win for the plaintiffs, only allowing the case to move forward toward a summary judgment decision or a trial. But it was notable for its strong language suggesting that there may have been an improper racial motivation for rescinding the DACA program.
Of the nearly 800,000 immigrants who are protected by DACA — referred to as "Dreamers," a reference to a bill in Congress known as the Dream Act more than 90 percent hail from Latin America, and almost 80 percent are originally from Mexico. In his order, Garaufis specifically mentioned Trump’s statements about Mexico sending “criminals” and “rapists” to the United States and his verbal attacks on a U.S.-born jurist of Mexican descent, Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel of U.S. District Court in San Diego. Garaufis also cited Trump’s assertions — both before and after his inauguration — that Latino immigrants were “animals” and “bad hombres.”
While the judge noted that looking for racial bias, especially in “campaign-trail statements,” was a potentially fraught process that could result in an “evidentiary snark hunt,” he concluded that his court could not “bury its head in the sand when faced with overt expressions of prejudice.”
In a separate prong of the ruling, Garaufis said that the decision to rescind DACA violated the Administrative Procedure Act, or APA, a federal law that bars the government from repealing policies arbitrarily, capriciously or without a rational basis.
The plaintiffs immediately welcomed the ruling as yet another victory in the case.
“We’re pleased the court ruled that our substantive equal protection and APA claims can proceed,” said Amy Spitalnik, a spokeswoman for Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York state attorney general. “We look forward to continuing our litigation to protect Dreamers and New York’s businesses, economy, and institutions.”
Jessica Hanson, a lawyer for the National Immigration Law Center, said that the ruling “again acknowledged that our brave plaintiffs present important claims, including that the decision to terminate DACA was rooted in Trump’s bias against Latinos.”
Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department, did not address Garaufis’ criticisms of Trump. In a statement, he said that DACA was “an unlawful circumvention of Congress” and that the Trump administration was “within its lawful authority” in winding it down.
“The Justice Department will continue to vigorously defend this position,” O’Malley added, “and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation.”
Garaufis’ ruling was not the first to cite Trump’s public statements. Judges around the country have also mentioned the president’s tweets and remarks while issuing orders about his travel ban and decision to bar transgender people from serving in the military.