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White House confirms it has no contingency plan for Dreamers

"We are still hopeful that something happens on this and Congress will actually do its job."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders takes questions from reporters during a news briefing at the White House. (CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders takes questions from reporters during a news briefing at the White House. (CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted on Tuesday that the Trump administration has no contingency plan in place for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program after March 5, the deadline Donald Trump gave Congress to come up with a permanent fix.

“[President Trump] is encouraging them to get something done,” Sanders said during a press briefing, addressing questions about the president’s spate of meetings with lawmakers later in the week. “It’s really sad that Democrats are not willing to come to the table, get something done, and actually fix problems and do their job. But, the president is still hopeful and we’re going to continue pushing forward.”

Asked whether the administration had a backup plan to keep DACA recipients protected past March 5, Sanders added, “We are still hopeful that something happens on this and Congress will actually do its job.”

Sanders comments are reflective of the Trump administration’s overall attitude toward DACA, which the president rescinded in September and which protects certain young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children (also known as “Dreamers”).

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Trump previously pledged that he would sign any bipartisan DACA fix that reached his desk, but his administration has rejected and sabotaged several such bills in the last two weeks alone, claiming that any fix for DACA must also restrict legal forms of immigration and include funding for the border wall.

The March 5 deadline is an arbitrary one at this point. Trump’s original announcement held that DACA recipients whose status expires after that date will not be able to renew their status, but a court ruling in January temporarily allowed the renewal process to continue. On Monday, the Supreme Court allowed the appeals court to continue reviewing the case, but the Trump administration is still fighting against the initial ruling.

In the meantime, however, no new DACA applications will be accepted and people continue to lose their status and be detained and deported. That’s what makes Sanders’ announcement on Tuesday about the lack of contingency even more concerning.

The White House stated in September that Dreamers would not be “a priority” in terms of enforcement, but that promise has done little to quell fears. Already, a number of undocumented immigrants with no criminal records have been detained by immigration officials, in some instances simply because they no longer able to qualify for the DACA program’s age restrictions; others were deported while they were reapplying for their DACA status.

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“My family and I haven’t sat down to think next steps because whenever someone mentions it, [we feel] fear and that fear is being driven by being powerless and unable to do anything,” 28-year-old Pamela Chomba told ThinkProgress in November. “Before, we had DACA and something to hold onto. And now we have nothing.”

Legislators have previously floated a number of immigration fixes that would address the problem, but each one has been shot down by the Trump administration or stalled in the House and Senate. During a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators in January, the president diminished the group’s efforts and questioned why the United States was bringing in immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador, and several African nations.

In mid-February, the Senate failed to pass several immigration measures: one, a bipartisan bill which would have provided a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers and enhanced border security, but no border wall funding; a Republican-led bill that penalized sanctuary cities but didn’t address DACA; and a third, bipartisan measure which included a path to citizenship and $25 billion for border security, but prevented immigrants from sponsoring parents for legal status.

A fourth bill, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), was favored by the White House, because it addressed the path to citizenship but rescinded the diversity visa lottery, prevented family unification immigration, and provided $25 billion in funds for Trump’s border wall. That bill failed by the biggest margin, with Democrats refusing to support what amounted to a crackdown on legal immigration.

In a tweet the next day, Trump pointed the finger at Democrats for failing to protect Dreamers. “Cannot believe how BADLY DACA recipients have been treated by the Democrats…totally abandoned! Republicans are still working hard,” he wrote.

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More recently, amid chaotic debate on Capitol Hill in the wake of a deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, Trump has tried to claim that Democrats have all but forgotten Dreamers in their attempts to reign in gun violence and address the teen survivors lobbying for stricter gun control measures.

“Dems are no longer talking DACA!” the president tweeted on Saturday. “‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ they say. DACA beneficiaries should not be happy. …Republicans stand ready to make a deal!”