In September 2017, the Trump White House rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, an Obama-era executive action on immigration that granted temporary deportation relief and work authorization to certain undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. The administration set in motion a six-month delay period, giving DACA recipients whose statuses expired before March 5, 2018 exactly one month to file for a final, two-year renewal.
March 5 is now upon us, a date that the White House has often claimed as the ultimate deadline for Congress to pass permanent legislation to prevent these young immigrants known as “Dreamers” from being at risk of deportation.
But the deadline is both significant and insignificant. It is not significant thanks to two injunctions in January and February that allowed DACA recipients to continue renewing their statuses. March 5 is no longer an ominous date when a flood of people revert to being undocumented again. The date, however, became significant for its long-term implications. Injunctions can be challenged and do not cover the entire DACA-eligible population. So how did we get to the March 5 “deadline” and what will this date mean for the future of 807,447 DACA recipients?
How did we get here and who can we blame?
To understand why DACA is still in place nearly six years after its announcement, we have to go back to 2012.
At the time, the Obama administration urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to no avail. The Obama administration used DACA as a stopgap measure to force Congress to pass a permanent solution. In 2013, the Senate passed its version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have provide an earned pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants. The bill died without ever getting a House floor vote.
In 2014, a 26-state coalition led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Obama administration over the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which would have granted similar protections to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and residents. DACA recipients would have also received three-year work permits. Paxton won and the government never put DAPA in place. Last year, Paxton challenged the U.S. Department of Justice to end the DACA program by September 5, 2017 or risk a lawsuit.
“We respectfully request that the Secretary of Homeland Security phase out the DACA program,” Paxton wrote in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Just like DAPA, DACA unilaterally confers eligibility for work authorization and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress.”
The White House — on September 5, 2017 — announced it would phase out the program by March 5, 2018. President Donald Trump set March 5 as a benchmark for congressional action, but also said he would take action if nothing happens. That move remains to be known.
What are the consequences of the March 5 deadline?
First off, March 5 will not trigger a complete end to DACA. But there are a lot of people at risk.
The first court injunction — allowing current DACA recipients whose statuses expire starting March 6 to renew their applications again — came in January. That means those individuals are likely still waiting for their renewals to come in the mail. Since 2014 when DACA recipients were first allowed to renew their work permits, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency, responsible for processing DACA applications, has told people to submit their applications 120 to 150 days before their statuses expire. For individuals still waiting for a notice from the USCIS agency — which can take 120 days of receipt — they risk falling out of status and becoming fully undocumented.
“Renewals only started being accepted recently and it takes USCIS a few months to process this, so even if someone had submitted their renewals — if their expiration date is March 6 — they are going to fall out of status before they get their notices from USCIS that they have legal work permits,” Anu Joshi, director of immigration policy at the advocacy group The New York Immigration Coalition, told ThinkProgress. “It means that if they have a job, they are at risk of getting fired. Under this administration, we know they are at risk of enforcement actions, or deportation, so while we are encouraging everyone who can renew to renew, there are still going to be many, many thousands of people who will start falling out of status.”
The Trump administration hasn’t excluded any type of undocumented immigrant from enforcement operations, including DACA recipients. Miguel Reyes Garcia and Edder Rizo Sanchez are both DACA recipients who were separately turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for potential deportation proceedings last year. Rizo Sanchez is still being held at an immigration detention center, while Reyes Garcia was recently released. Recent USCIS data reveals that as of January 31, there were about 13,770 immigrants with expired DACA statuses with pending renewal applications.
“Simply having a renewal application on file with USCIS provides no protection from detention and deportation,” a recent Center for American Progress report pointed out. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within the Center for American Progress.) As ThinkProgress previously reported, DACA recipients in the process of re-applying for the program are finding themselves at risk of deportation. In at least one case, an immigrant from Virginia with a pending DACA application was deported one day after the USCIS agency denied his application. In March 2017, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency made clear that “DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority.”
According to USCIS, as of January 31, there were nearly 14,000 pending renewals from recipients whose DACA had already expired. The expiration of DACA forces people to lose their jobs, driver’s licenses and, in some instances, access to higher education.
What will happen on March 5?
Not much is publicly known about what the White House or Congress will do on March 5. Because the injunctions are only a temporary stopgap measure, it’s unclear when the White House will again attempt to end DACA. But immigrant advocacy groups are using the date as a “National Day of Action” across several states and in dozens of cities to pressure the president and Congress to make DACA protections permanent. In countless emailed press releases to this reporter, advocacy groups have begun preparations to hold Congress accountable for passing a measure that most Americans, according to multiple polls, view with sympathy.
“We’ll be having a press conference outside the Trump Tower… to call attention to the travesty and racism of this administration,” Joshi said. She said the actions in New York City would likely culminate in the city of Flushing, which is in one of the City’s most diverse boroughs, Queens. With over 30,000 DACA recipients across the five boroughs of New York City, Dreamers contributed to 1.05 percent of city’s GDP, or about $8.6 billion.
“This administration has never hidden their anti-immigrant viewpoints and their quest to make this a country run by white people for as long as possible and terminating DACA was just one part of that agenda,” Joshi added. “Indiscriminate enforcement was another part of that. ICE terrorizing immigrant communities detaining people who have longstanding ties in the community, have children, who have made themselves known to ICE, is all part of this agenda. We see it as this president furthering his white nationalist movement.”
UPDATE: The article previously said that Miguel Reyes Garcia was held in immigration detention. ThinkProgress has since learned that he was recently released.