The fate of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established in 2012 by President Obama remains uncertain amid sometimes conflicting reports of where the Trump administration stands on its future.
Under DACA, undocumented young people in the United States who meet certain criteria are protected from deportation and allowed to work legally on renewable two-year permits. These criteria include having arrived in the country before the age of 16; being in school or possessing a high school diploma; and having lived in the United States for at least five years. The Obama administration created DACA in the face of congressional inaction on comprehensive immigration reform.
The program was a flashpoint during the 2016 election, as then-candidate Donald Trump promised to revoke both DACA and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, a 2014 policy that sought to shield undocumented immigrant parents from deportation. President Trump rolled back DAPA in June, but DACA remains in limbo until the administration announces whether it will take action to either end the program or continue to offer its protections to young immigrants.
In the past several weeks, state attorneys general from both sides of the aisle have pushed for the White House to take action. A group of Republican state attorneys general in late June threatened to challenge the administration in court if it does not phase out the program by Sept. 5. In a letter published by The Wall Street Journal, ACE Senior Vice President Terry Hartle called on these attorneys general to stop immediately while the Trump administration and Congress work on a solution.
However, former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly—the president’s new chief of staff—reportedly told the Hispanic Caucus in July that although he personally supports DACA, he could not guarantee that the administration would defend it in any court case that might arise.
Trump has signaled in the past that DACA is an issue where he struggles to reach a conclusion. He said in an April 21 interview with The Associated Press that “Dreamers” will not be targets for deportation under his immigration policies. At that time, Kelly told CNN that his department has “many, many more important criminals to go after and get rid of.” In June, as part of the administration’s memorandum ending DAPA, it made it clear that the DACA program “will remain in effect.”
In response to the GOP attorneys general, 20 Democratic state attorneys general sent a letter to the president explaining how the program has benefited their states and the nation as a whole and to ask the president to fulfill his public commitment to Dreamers.
For those of you who wish to contact your congressional representatives to discuss the importance of DACA, ACE has prepared a brief set of talking points for guidance.
Legislative Action on Young Immigrants
As the higher education community watches the administration for action on DACA, some in Congress are attempting to revive the issue legislatively, with a new version of the Dream Act.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) on July 20 introduced the Dream Act of 2017, which would establish eight-year conditional permanent residency status for those brought to this country as minors and who graduate from high school or obtain a GED and pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years, or serve in the military, among other requirements. (See ACE’s letter of support for the bill here.)
The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act was first introduced in the Senate in 2001 by Durbin and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and has since been reintroduced numerous times but never signed into law.