Despite many urges not to proceed, the Trump administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Tuesday, September 5. As the phasing out of the program begins, the rush to find solutions for DREAMers is in full swing but efforts may not be enough.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially announced the administration’s decision to end the DACA program which he said was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”
The program, signed by former President Barack Obama in an executive action in 2012, protected from deportation nearly 800,000 undocumented people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. With a six-month period winding down to its termination, White House members are already looking to counter the decision.
A lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, September 6, in New York by attorneys general of 15 states and the District of Columbia. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced on Wednesday that they were suing the federal government for the decision he called “cruel, shortsighted, inhumane, and potentially devastating to hundreds and thousands of immigrants and millions of people who work with, study with, love, and care for them.”
He added that the decision was driven by Trump’s “personal anti-Mexican, anti-Latino bias.”
Schneiderman signaled the intent to sue on Tuesday and said, “My job is to protect all the residents of New York — no matter where they come from, and I will use every legal tool I have available to make sure they get the opportunity to live the American dream, just like millions of New York immigrants before them.
“DREAMERs are Americans in every way. They played by the rules. They pay their taxes.”
In California, where the largest number of DACA recipients live, government officials also expressed legal action against Tuesday’s decision. In a statement following the announcement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that the state was ready to sue the Trump administration.
“President Trump has turned his back on hundreds of thousands of children and young Americans who came forward and put their trust in our government. But in terminating DACA, the Trump administration has also violated the Constitution and federal laws,” said Becerra.
“California is taking action because one in four DACA grantees live in our great state,” he added. “I will do everything I can to fight for them.”
Late July, Becerra led a coalition of 20 attorneys general, which included Schneiderman, in sending a letter to Trump that urged him to retain DACA.
Pending bills in Congress
On Tuesday, Trump sent out tweets mentioning Congress’ major role in the upcoming months, and the possibility of him revisiting the issue if still in a deadlock.
“I look forward to working [with Democrats and Republicans] in Congress to address immigration reform in a way that puts hardworking citizens of our country 1st,” read one tweet.
He later tweeted, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit the issue!”
There are a number of pending bills that Congress could act upon within the next six months that would address the future status of DREAMers.
At the forefront is the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act” (DREAM Act) which was first introduced in 2001, and failed to pass multiple times.
Sponsor Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill), and Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C) proposed a new version of the bill in July of this year which got a seemingly unfavorable response by the Trump administration. Trump’s legislative affairs director Marc Short expressed that the administration had “opposed the DREAM Act and likely will be consistent on that.”
Still, Durbin and Graham said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that they were calling on Congress to act on the bill before the end of September.
“We need to pass in this month of September a DREAM Act — a permanent law in this country that says that these young people will have their chance to become part of America’s future, “ said Durbin.
If the revised DREAM Act is to pass, recipients would have the same protections as DACA, as well as a path for permanent legal resident status or citizenship, if certain requirements are met — DACA did not provide either.
Other bills include the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, the American Hope Act, and the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream (BRIDGE) Act.
Like the DREAM Act, the RAC and the American Hope Act offer a path to citizenship upon meeting certain requirements. The RAC Act, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), would allow immigrants who have been vetted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a pathway to legalization through either higher education, service in the armed forces, or work authorization.
Participants would be put on a five-year conditional status which they could reapply for a five-year permanent status, according to a press release by Curbelo.
The fastest option to gaining citizenship would be the American Hope Act, sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill, which only requires that applicants to have entered the U.S. before the age of 18, and have not been convicted of certain crimes. Eligible participants can apply for a conditional permanent residency before applying for a lawful permanent residence status, and finally citizenship.
Like DACA, the BRIDGE Act, sponsored by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., would give eligible participants protection and authorization to work. It also would not include a path to citizenship. According to the National Immigration Law Center, the requirements would essentially be the same.
The big difference lies in that the benefits would be extended for three years, basically allowing Congress more time to solidify a solution for DREAMers.
Still room for worry
On Thursday, September 7, Trump sent out another tweet assuring that DACA participants had nothing to worry about.
The tweet read, “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!”
Despite Trump’s attempt at comforting those affected, there are certain realities that may keep DACA grantees worried.
As mentioned, the DREAM Act, which many advocates have been increasingly pushing, has failed multiple times before which was why Obama enacted DACA. It doesn’t help to know that Congress has other things on their plate like raising the debt ceiling, avoiding a government shutdown, and addressing needs of Hurricane Harvey victims.
For those already in the program, their window of making sure their documents are valid is only until Oct. 5. That deadline looks grimmer for those who might not have the $495 easily available. As for the many that were unable to secure DACA benefits by Sept. 5, they are left in limbo.
One of the many concerns recipients had even prior to the decision was of the DHS’ access to their personal information which they feared would be used for deportation. The DHS has said that DACA participant information would not be “proactively provided” to other law enforcement entities like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or Customs and Border Protection (CBP), unless they pose a threat to national security or public safety. They also said that the policy may be rescinded or modified at anytime without notice.
More recently, CNN obtained a memo by the Trump administration titled “Talking Points – DACA Rescission,” that included distressing content.
The 12th bullet point stated that the DHS urges DACA recipients to “use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States.”
In the meantime, over 800,000 individuals who have been protected by DACA are watching to see what actions the White House will make. Over 4,500 of them come from the Philippines.