President Donald Trump continues to weigh phasing out a program that has protected young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children — with a decision to sunset the program possible as early as this week.
The administration has been reviewing its options on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for months — opting to continue the Obama administration policy when it took office despite Trump’s bellicose campaign rhetoric. The review has intensified in recent weeks, as an ultimatum looms after Labor Day to force the administration’s hand.
Trump is said to be weighing two options on DACA that would continue protections, but would prevent future applicants and possibly renewals of the two-year permits, according to a source close to the White House and Congress.
The President has wavered on the program, from pledging on the campaign trail to end it immediately to calling it a “very, very hard” choice in recent months and telling The Associated Pressthat recipients of DACA should “rest easy.”
“It’s a decision that I make and it’s a decision that’s very, very hard to make. I really understand the situation now,” Trump said in a conversation with reporters on Air Force One last month. “I understand the situation very well. What I’d like to do is a comprehensive immigration plan. But our country and political forces are not ready yet.”
But meetings have been taking place in recent weeks about the future of the program. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, historically a longtime opponent of DACA, discussed the program at the White House with officials late last week, and the Department of Homeland Security says the program has come up in multiple meetings in recent months. The agency has maintained it is not preparing for particular scenarios, but rather standing ready for when the President makes his decision.
Nearly 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants have benefited from DACA, which protects children who were brought to the US illegally from deportation and offers them the ability to work, study and participate in their communities without fear. Many have known no other home besides the US. Applicants must meet certain criteria, pass a background check and maintain a clean record.
But conservative states are trying to force Trump’s hand to sunset the program by September 5. That’s the deadline in an ultimatum issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine other state attorneys general to the Trump administration. They’ve asked the administration to rescind DACA by then or they will challenge it in an unfriendly court.
They have already succeeded in stopping a similar program to protect the parents of childhood arrivals to the US, though legal experts supportive of DACA say that slight differences in wording and protocols could give it some legal footing in a court that has already ruled against its would-be sister program. The legal challenge over that program, which never was allowed to go into effect, remains ongoing.
If the September 5 deadline isn’t met, Texas would ask the court to add DACA to that challenge, which would force the administration to decide whether it will defend DACA in court. That responsibility would fall to Sessions’ Justice Department.
When the Obama administration instituted the deferred action program in 2012, critics, including then-Sen. Sessions, blasted the move as an executive overreach. The Trump administration, largely through chief of staff John Kelly when he was serving as DHS secretary, has prodded Congress to come up with a permanent solution for the program, which would answer the complaints of it being done through presidential authority.
Four different proposals have been introduced in Congress to offer some permanent protections to the so-called “Dreamers” under the program, two bipartisan, one Republican and one Democratic.
An upcoming government spending and debt ceiling fight could provide an avenue for a legislative compromise — especially if lawmakers see a potential deal to be made to give Trump money to begin building his long-promised border wall.
Trump has issued a shutdown threat if government funding, which runs out at the end of next month, does not provide for a wall.