White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Tuesday said the Trump administration’s immigration proposal, which provides permanent legal protections for certain undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, is “beyond what anyone could have imagined” — even providing protections for those who were “too lazy to get off their asses” to register for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
During an impromptu gathering with reporters, Kelly said the president’s decision to provide provisions to give an earned pathway to citizenship to 1.8 million people was “beyond what anyone could have imagined, whether you’re on the right or the left,” according to the Washington Post congressional reporter Erica Werner. He explained that there are officially 690,000 DACA recipients, but that the president’s immigration plan was considered generous because it includes a broader number of “Dreamers,” or immigrants who came to the country as children.
Accounting for the large difference between the official DACA population statistic and the total number of Dreamers in the country, Kelly said it was likely that some people “were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses but they didn’t sign up,” according to both Werner’s report and Politico reporter Seung Min Kim.
Trump phased out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last year, an Obama-era program that provided deportation relief and work authorization in two-year increments. As part of the program’s rescission, the president gave DACA recipients whose statuses expired before March 5 exactly one month to renew their applications.
Kelly’s explanation of “lazy” Dreamers does not fully square with the facts on the ground. It’s true that an estimated 1.8 million people are eligible for the DACA program which came into fruition in 2012, according to the Immigration Policy Council. But the 1.8 million figure also took into account children who had not yet met the minimum age required to apply for DACA but had otherwise met the other eligibility criteria as well as people who met all criteria except high school graduation or current school enrollment.
There are a variety of reasons that DACA-eligible applicants wouldn’t apply for the program. For a group of people who has largely lived their lives hiding from immigration enforcement officials, applying to DACA meant giving up real addresses. As early as November 2012, people portended a future where a “Republican president would rescind the policy and use the information on their applications to locate and deport them,” the Washington Post reported. Into 2013, some immigrants didn’t apply because they were misinformed about the program. Some people in the Asian immigrant community had to overcome social stigmas of the “model minority myth” to admit that they’re undocumented, NPR also reported.
Into 2014, the DACA program faced legal challenges by Republican-led states, putting the fate of the program in uncertainty. In late November 2014, the Obama administration issued three-year work authorization to 108,000 DACA recipients, with a federal judge demanding the personal information of all recipients of the three-year work authorization cards. That federal judge said he would keep the information under seal, but could release the list to state authorities “on a showing of good cause.”
Then, Donald Trump became president. Trump — who campaigned on harsh immigration policies and promised to end DACA — also effectively scared off enough people that immigrant advocacy groups began advising immigrants not to apply for DACA as a first-time applicant. They did so on legitimate concerns that Trump’s federal immigration agencies would haphazardly use the contact information submitted on DACA applications to pursue immigrants.
Today, the total DACA recipient population is still low compared to the total DACA-eligible population. A federal court has allowed current DACA recipients to renew their applications, but it has also prohibited new DACA-eligible applicants from accessing the DACA program. And after Trump gave a one-month period for some DACA recipients to apply for their extension, a total of 22,000, or one in seven people did not submit an application to renew their statuses. Some of those people were in areas of Texas and Florida still dealing with hurricanes. About 4,000 recipients were affected by mail slowdowns, though those people have since been allowed to reapply.
But then again, there is also the simple issue of cost. It costs $495 to apply for the DACA program, a not-negligible amount of money for a group of people whose average annual earnings total $36,232 and median annual earnings total $32,000.
Kelly — who was labeled as a “force for moderation” when he first joined the administration — apparently didn’t take any of these variables into account.
Kelly also said on Tuesday said that President Donald Trump is not expected to extend a “March 5 deadline” he gave Congress to pass legislation that provides legal protections for Dreamers. Last September, Trump said he may “revisit” the deadline, but White House officials more recently stood by the date. At the time, Trump tweeted that he would give Congress six months through March 5, 2018 time to “legalize DACA.” He also tweeted “If they can’t, I will revisit this issue.”