Since he became president, Donald Trump has been pondering whether to continue one of President Obama’s signature immigration programs.
Known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program has granted almost 800,000 young immigrants since 2012 the possibility to live legally in the United States, obtain a work permit and travel abroad — all while receiving the government’s word that they will not be deported unless they commit certain crimes. To be eligible for the program, immigrants have to have been brought to the U.S. before age 16 and lived here continuously since 2007.
But a decision to end DACA may be imminent, according to numerous recent press accounts.
What Is DACA?
DACA emerged as the Obama administration’s response to the failed DREAM Act — a bill that, in various forms, moved unsuccessfully through Congress between 2001 and 2011. The DREAM bill would have permanently legalized young immigrants who had been brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
When that legislation finally failed, Obama created similar programs through executive orders, starting with DACA in 2012. That means DACA can easily be undone by Trump or any other president, which would not be the case if legislation had been enacted.
Why Is DACA in Peril?
A number of Trump’s advisers oppose the DACA program; they consider it to be executive overreach. Among the administration officials espousing that view are Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House policy advisor Stephen Miller.
Trump, who campaigned on pledges to expel illegal immigrants, has expressed sympathy for those protected by DACA. At a February press conference, he said he was going “to deal with DACA with heart” and that the immigrants granted that status were mostly “some absolutely incredible kids.”
In July, however, Trump sounded more neutral when asked about the program: “It’s a decision that I make.”
Since then, a coalition of state attorneys general who previously won a court ruling striking down a similar Obama program — DAPA, which would have given similar protections to undocumented parents — said they would tack on DACA to their so-far successful DAPA lawsuit. They gave Trump an ultimatum: get rid of DACA by next Tuesday or be prepared to defend it in court.
On Friday, NBC News reported that Trump “appears likely” to end the program. But no official announcement has been made.
What Can Trump Do and What Would the Effects Be?
Trump has few options. He can keep the program as is, leaving its defense in the hands of AG Sessions. But it’s unclear if Sessions would defend DACA in court, given his often-stated contention that the program is illegal.
Trump could also let DACA die a slow death, by deciding to block the renewal of work permits. Without permits, those protected by DACA could lose their jobs.
“I think the most likely scenario is that the Department of Homeland Security will stop reviewing DACA applications and renewals,” said Julia Gelatt, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute. “Young people have a two-year work authorization that would expire over time.”
If that were the case, about 1,000 immigrants per day would lose their legal protections. That would expose them to deportation, like the rest of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. What worries some is that DACA recipients have identified themselves to the government — providing their home address, among other things — and as a result, could be more easily located and detained.
Who Are the DACA Immigrants?
Half of the people receiving DACA protections live in just two states: California and Texas. Almost four in five of them are Mexican citizens, and most are in their twenties. A study conducted by MPI’s Gelatt found that 76 percent of DACA recipients are active members of the labor force, many of them in office jobs.
“We saw in our data this move from outdoor jobs, which you associate with undocumented workers, toward white-collar jobs,” Gelatt said. “If DACA recipients lose their work authorization they may lose access to the white collar jobs.”
Help Us Shape Our DACA Reporting
Knowing what’s at stake, we want to hear from DACA recipients about how they are living, preparing and coping with an uncertain future. A cancellation of DACA could affect you if you are currently abroad, if your DACA status is tied to your college financial aid or if you are currently employed. In all cases, it could affect whether you are able to remain in the country. DACA has affected the lives of 800,000 young immigrants and we want to tell those stories. So, how does DACA affect your life? Please tell us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org answering any of the three questions below:
- What, if anything, have you been able to achieve with DACA?
- If Trump cancels DACA, how would that affect your future?
- When does your work permit expire?