- President Donald Trump’s March 5 deadline for the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program passed on Monday.
- The deadline’s passage was complicated by federal judges who ordered the Trump administration to temporarily reinstate parts of the program.
- The confusion has left hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as “Dreamers” in limbo, as they struggle to renew their protections before a higher court potentially strikes down the program once and for all.
President Donald Trump’s attempt to end a program protecting hundreds of thousands of young unauthorised immigrants hit an anticlimactic hurdle on Monday, as his March 5 termination deadline came and went without a permanent fix from Congress.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is currently hanging in limbo, as two federal judges have ordered the Trump administration to partially reinstate the program as it undergoes a lengthy court battle.
Legislative action from Congress appears unlikely anytime soon – previous efforts failed spectacularly in February after senators shot down four different proposals to resolve the fate of the young immigrants known as “Dreamers” in exchange for other immigration reforms.
Here’s what you need to know about the program:
What is DACA?
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program shields from deportation roughly 690,000 young unauthorised immigrants by providing two-year, renewable permits.
The Obama administration implemented DACA in 2012, after several attempts to legislate a permanent solution for Dreamers failed in Congress.
DACA does not grant immigrants a legal status in the US. It lets them work legally and protects them from deportation so long as they aren’t convicted of major crimes.
Applicants to the program were only accepted if they were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. They also had to have moved to the US before they turned 16 years old, and lived in the US continuously since 2007.
They were also required to have graduated high school or obtained a GED, or completed prior military service, and to not have any prior felony or serious misdemeanour convictions.
The Trump administration announced September 5 it would wind down the program, calling it an act of executive overreach by the Obama administration and declaring it unconstitutional.
What’s going on with the courts?
The Trump administration gave Congress six months to enact a legislative solution, announcing last September that the program would be terminated on March 5, 2018.
The administration allowed those DACA recipients with near-term expiry dates to renew their permits one last time, so long as they applied by October 5, 2017.
For a number of reasons, including mail delays, roughly 22,000 DACA recipients who were eligible to renew failed to do so on time, and advocates estimate that 122 immigrants per day have lost their DACA protections since September 5.
DACA’s phase-out was further complicated in recent months by rulings from two federal judges in California and New York who both ordered the Trump administration to resume processing DACA renewal applications.
The Trump administration quickly tried to appeal the rulings to the Supreme Court and a federal appeals court, but SCOTUS shot down the Trump administration’s request.
The case will go through the federal appeals process first, and since the Trump administration didn’t ask the higher courts to block the California judge’s initial ruling, it will continue processing DACA renewals for the foreseeable future.
What will happen to the Dreamers?
Immigration lawyers and advocates argue that the uncertainty over DACA renewals only add to the urgency.
Renewals can take months for the government to process, and that leaves both DACA recipients and their employers in limbo if their renewals aren’t processed quickly enough before their work authorization expires.
“It is going to be so detrimental to them, because they just don’t know. It’s hard for employers to plan,” Theda Fisher, a partner at the Withers Bergman law firm, told Business Insider.
“[DACA recipients] also all live in a world of uncertainty. So if they have a car loan or a mortgage or a family here, they’re not sure if they’re going to be able to pay their bills come later this year when their work authorization expires.”
For now, they’re in limbo.
How do lawmakers feel about DACA?
Lawmakers on all sides of the political spectrum generally agreed that DACA recipients were brought to the US through no fault of their own and grew up alongside Americans, and therefore should not face deportation en masse.
There are some exceptions, such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who has proposed that DACA recipients “go home” and that they could volunteer for the Peace Corps in their home countries.
King and some far-right immigration commentators argue that granting any type of “amnesty” to the DACA population would negatively impact American workers, particularly because DACA recipients are relatively well-educated, skilled, and competitive in the workforce.
Economists say there is no evidence DACA recipients are systematically taking jobs away from American workers.
But in mainstream politics, the debate was not whether to let DACA recipients stay in the US, but what type of status to grant them.
Democrats argued that DACA recipients should have a pathway to citizenship, and so should a broader population of unauthorised immigrants brought to the US as children who either fell outside of DACA’s age parameters or who may have been eligible for DACA but failed to apply.
Some Republicans also supported a pathway to citizenship, but hard-line conservatives preferred to grant DACA recipients temporary, renewable permits. The lawmakers feared that granting citizenship to DACA recipients would lead to the naturalization of their parents or other relatives, whom they could sponsor.
Why has DACA become such a sticking point?
The debate over what to do with DACA recipients opened up an immigration-related can of worms.
Republicans demanded that DACA reforms be paired with border security measures because they feared that legalizing an entire category of unauthorised immigrants could incentivise others to attempt illegal immigration.
Republicans and Democrats disagreed on what measures to take and how much funding to provide.
Trump demanded $US18 billion to fund his long-promised wall along the US-Mexico border, but Democrats insisted that border security funding be confined to measures like fencing or surveillance technology.
Some Republicans, as well as Trump, also demanded reforms to family-based immigration categories, which they refer to as “chain migration.”
Immigration hardliners, including Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue, previously proposed slashing legal immigration to the US by half, mostly by reducing the ability of US citizens and green card holders to sponsor their foreign relatives for visas.
The debate over “chain migration” reached the mainstream last December, after a suspected terrorist allegedly attempted a suicide bombing in a busy underground passageway in New York City. The suspect, 27-year-old Akayed Ullah, had immigrated to the US in 2011 through a family-sponsored visa category.
The Trump administration declared “chain migration” incompatible with national security and demanded Congress eliminate extended-family visa categories, which it said allowed “far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country.”
The diversity visa lottery met a similar fate. The program, which allots roughly 50,000 visas to people from countries that typically send few immigrants to the US, has long been a target for hardliners like Cotton and Perdue.
But the program burst into the mainstream political debate after another New York City terror attack in October, in which the suspect received a visa to the US through the lottery years earlier.
Trump demanded that the lottery be eliminated, and has begun accusing foreign countries of using the diversity visa lottery to send their “worst people” to the US. The claim is false, as countries don’t send immigrants through the program – people apply of their own volition.
While most lawmakers can agree that they need to “do something” about DACA, they can’t agree on how to solve the rest of the immigration debate, and the Dreamers have gotten tangled up in the larger web.
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