President Donald Trump’s call to end the immigration program known as Deferred Action for Children Arrivals, or DACA, has sparked protests, walkouts, applause and legal threats, not to mention conflicting signals from the White House itself about the ultimate outcome.
Here’s a look at the program, the controversy, the reaction, the politics and what looms ahead.
What is DACA and when did it start?
President Barack Obama authorized DACA through an executive order in 2012 after immigration reform talks stalled in Congress. It protects children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents from being deported and allows them to get work permits, driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers, and enroll in college or military service.
Recipients must have been 30 years old or younger when the program started and have been younger than 16 when they entered the United States. They can renew their status every two years, but they must maintain clean criminal records.
Does DACA give participants citizenship status?
No. It gives a reprieve from deportation while participants continue to work or study in the United States.
Is this the same as the “Dream Act?”
No. Whereas the Dream (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act would have provided a pathway to citizenship, DACA doesn’t.
How many participate in DACA? Where are from and where do they live?
There are about 800,000. Nearly 80 percent are from Mexico, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras account for about 8.5 percent. There also are thousands from Peru, Brazil, South Korea and the Philippines. More than one-fourth live in California (222,000); about 16 percent in Texas (124,000), followed by Illinois (42,000) and New York (42,000) with about 5 percent each. About 14,000 Dreamers on Long Island were eligible for those protections when the program was rolled out, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. It is unclear how many of them applied and were accepted.
What are the arguments for continuing and ending the program?
Advocates: So-called Dreamers were brought into this country through no fault of their own. Many have lived the majority of their lives here and aren’t the “criminals” and “rapists” that Trump decried during the Republican presidential primaries. They want citizenship but are in legal limbo because Congress has failed to provide a pathway. There is a racial bias behind the effort to roll back DACA.
“Dreamers are Americans in every way,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, one of 15 state AGs who immediately filed suit to block Trump’s action. “They played by the rules. They pay their taxes. And they’ve earned the right to stay in the only home they have ever known . . .”
Opponents: The program rewards the Dreamers’ parents who broke laws by going around the legal immigration process. Obama’s executive order was unconstitutional and wouldn’t have withstood a legal challenge (several states had promised a lawsuit if Trump hadn’t acted by Sept. 5). Allowing them to stay in the United States and work or study diminishes wages overall, and takes away jobs and educational resources meant for citizens.
“We must recognize that codifying the DACA program will have two negative consequences: encouraging future illegal immigration with minors and allowing those 800,000 people to obtain legal status for their family members via chain migration . . . ,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
What happens next?
Trump’s action calls for DACA to be phased out within six months — March 5, 2018. If a participant’s permit is set to expire before then, he or she can apply by Oct. 5 to renew it. If it expires after March 5, the person cannot apply for renewal and would be subject to deportation.
Further, Trump said he wants to see Congress to pass a law to replace DACA by that March deadline. Critics say Congress hasn’t acted on the issue in years, so why should anyone expect action now.
What are the mixed signals Trump has sent?
He stirred his supporters during the campaign by blasting illegal immigration and vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He even called DACA “illegal amnesty.”
But early into his term, he said the issue of DACA was “very difficult” and that he wanted to “show great heart.” In August, he said: “We love the Dreamers.”
His administration announced the timetable for rescinding the program — sparking the lawsuits and, in Denver, a school walkout. But later the same day, Trump said that DACA participants would not be “enforcement priorities” for deportation unless they have a criminal record and said on Twitter he will “revisit the issue” if Congress doesn’t act.
What could Congress do?
There’s a reason Congress hasn’t enacted any major immigration legislation since 1986 — it isn’t easy to either find common ground or shape a bill that one party can ram through without cross-party help. And the divide over immigration has grown more partisan and more hardened.
So the divide could lead Congress into doing nothing, which would mean the end of DACA come March — an outcome some conservatives would applaud.
If that seems apparent, Democrats could try to get a DACA extension tucked into one of the important measures Congress must tackle over the next few months, such as enacting a federal budget or passing a tax cut that Trump wants.
Trump could go around conservative Republicans — as he did on the debt ceiling/Hurricane Harvey aid bill — and make a deal with Democrats and moderate Republicans to keep DACA going.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump told her he would sign the Dream Act if approved by lawmakers — though that prospect faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Congress.