White House ends DACA, a lifeline for many undocumented youths

This puts 800,000 immigrants in legal status limbo.

A man holds a sign during a rally for DACA on August 25, 2017. CREDIT: Esther Lee/ ThinkProgress
A man holds a sign during a rally for DACA on August 25, 2017. CREDIT: Esther Lee/ ThinkProgress

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the White House will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a six-month delay for Congress to act. DACA is an Obama-era initiative that conferred temporary deportation relief and work authorization in two-year increments to undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

“I’m here today to announce that the program known as DACA, that was effectuated under the Obama administration, is being rescinded,” Sessions told onlookers. Calling recipients “mostly adult illegal aliens,” he went on to detail the “wind down” process President Donald Trump’s administration intends to follow as it phases out DACA with no indicator that Congress will act to protect those currently covered by the executive order.  

“We are people of compassion and we are people of law,” Sessions said. “But…[there is] nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws.”

In a press statement sent before Sessions’ news conference, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said he would “not be taking questions” after the briefing.

The program will allow the president to undo former President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive action as he had previously promised. In the weeks leading up to the announcement, administration officials have told various news outlets including Politico, Fox News, and McClatchy D.C. Bureau that they believed that Trump’s decision to end the program still showed “great heart” simply because it allowed current DACA recipients to stay in the country until their work authorization expired.

Qualifications to become beneficiaries are lengthy, expensive, and narrow. Among other considerations, applicants must prove that they will or have already graduated from high school in the United States, have passed a background check, and must be under the age of 31 by June 15, 2012, the program’s implementation date. As of March 2017, 787,580 applicants were successfully approved for the DACA program.

The White House’s planned rescission, which aims to phase out the program within six months, comes ahead of a September 5 deadline imposed by a group of ten state officials who threatened to bring a legal challenge against the White House if it didn’t end DACA.

The president previously said he would treat some beneficiaries “with heart.” That assurance never matched up with the executive orders he signed that broadly deputized local law enforcement officials to pursue undocumented immigrants, regardless of the severity of crime convictions.

While the program has always been a stop-gap fix until Congress could take up permanent federal legislation, its expected loss is sudden and scary. Without the deportation relief afforded by DACA, every beneficiary could be considered a priority for deportation.

As beneficiaries enter a period of legal status limbo, there remains growing anxiety that they will now be inclusive within the Trump administration’s promise to gin up deportation numbers of undocumented immigrants. Most of these beneficiaries — who may not have been able to adjust their legal status through other means — will now have to live with the unsettling reality that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the federal agency overseeing immigration enforcement, has their private information including personal addresses and potentially their parents’ home addresses.

Since Trump’s inauguration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has gone after DACA recipients, including Juan Manuel Montes and Riccy Enriquez Perdomo. Montes was deported. Perdomo was released in large part thanks to her DACA status.

Most recently, the president signaled his approval of local law enforcement officials enforcing federal immigration law by pardoning former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The former self-acclaimed “nation’s toughest sheriff” was found guilty of defying a federal judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinx individuals. In his 24-year tenure, Arpaio’s harsh immigration enforcement tactics drew nationwide condemnation for its brutish efforts to make life hell for detainees.

Government officials indicated Tuesday that DACA recipients would not be the immediate priority of ICE in the months to come. But officials from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which has access to all records on DACA recipients, said the information would be maintained — and that ICE could obtain access if need be. Officials also emphasized that the Trump administration’s decision was a legal basis, not one rooted in morality or security.

DACA has helped many recipients, also known as so-called DREAMers — named for the federal bill that would have provided legal status to this subgroup of undocumented immigrants — to attain many firsts, such as their first bank account, first credit card, first car purchase, and becoming first in the family to graduate from college. According to a national survey published this week, nearly 97 percent of DACA beneficiaries are currently in school or are working.

Ending DACA puts the president in an awkward position with American voters who broadly support the program. Numerous polling numbers show American voters mostly sympathize with providing a legal pathway for DREAMers. An April 2017 Morning Consult survey found nearly 4 in 5 registered voters wanted DREAMers to be allowed to stay in the country, while 56 percent wanted them to be able to eventually gain citizenship. As of Friday, numerous Republican lawmakers have come out against the president’s decision to rescind DACA.

This article has been updated to include more information about the administration’s line of thinking.