WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will phase out a program that has protected hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children from being deported.
In the five years since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was enacted, nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants have been allowed to stay in the country.
The Department of Homeland Security will stop processing any new applications for the program as of Tuesday and has formally rescinded the Obama administration policy.
“I am here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday at a Justice Department news conference.
But the agency also announced a plan to continue renewing permits for anyone whose status expires in the next six months, giving Congress time to act before any currently protected individuals lose their ability to work, study and live without fear in the US.
No one’s DACA status will be revoked before it expires, administration officials said, and any applications already received by Tuesday will be processed.
Anyone whose status expires by March 5 has one month to apply for a new two-year permit, and those applications will be processed.
If Congress were not to act, and DACA begins to expire, nearly 300,000 people could begin to lose their status in 2018, and more than 320,000 would lose their status from January to August 2019. More than 200,000 recipients have their DACA expiring in the window that DHS will allow renewal.
Here’s a look at some frequently asked questions about the program and its future:
Who’s protected by the program?
These are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, a group often described as Dreamers.
Since the Obama administration began DACA in 2012, 787,580 people have been approved for the program, according to the latest government figures.
To be eligible, an applicant must have arrived in the US before age 16 and lived there since June 15, 2007. They cannot have been older than 30 when the Department of Homeland Security enacted the policy in 2012.
Among the accepted applicants, Mexico is by far the biggest country of origin, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
What does DACA do for them?
If their applications are approved by US immigration officials, DACA recipients can come out of the shadows and obtain valid driver’s licenses, enroll in college and legally secure jobs.
It doesn’t give them a path to become US citizens or even legal permanent residents — something immigrant rights advocates have criticized, saying it leaves people in limbo.
How long does the deferral last?
Under the DACA program, Dreamers can apply to defer deportation and legally reside in the US for two years. After that, they can apply for renewal. By March 31, 240,700 people had applied for renewal in the 2017 fiscal year and nearly 800,000 renewals have been approved over the life of the program.
Speaking with reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity, DHS did not rule out that anyone with expired DACA would then be subject to deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they will continue to prioritize for enforcement people with criminal records, people who re-enter the US illegally and those with final orders of removal.
But officials said there will be no formal guidance that former DACA recipients are not eligible for deportation, and ICE officers in the field who encounter them will be making a case-by-case judgment as to whether to arrest that individual and process them for deportation.
The administration insisted its approach was designed to offer some security to DACA recipients, emphasizing that if it had allowed the courts to decide the issue, then would have been risking an immediate and abrupt end to DACA at the hands of a judge.
But it also was made clear that once DACA begins to expire, if Congress doesn’t act, then people formerly protected “would be like any other person who’s in the country illegally,” according to a senior DHS official.
All of the information provided to the government by DACA applicants will remain in the DHS system. US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the program, will give that information to ICE if requested if “there’s a significant law enforcement or national security interest,” an official said.
While they won’t be specifically targeted, DHS said, they could be arrested and deported if they are encountered by ICE officers. And their information, which they provided extensively for their DACA applications, will continue to reside in DHS systems and could be accessed if officers feel it’s necessary in the course of an investigation.
DHS said it had on plans to issue formal guidelines on how former DACA recipients — or their information — will be treated beyond the current operating procedures of DHS.
“To be clear, what ICE is doing now is what Congress intended, we’re actually enforcing the law the way it is written,” said a senior ICE official. “(This is t)he first President who’s asked us to enforce the law the way it is written and not asked us to have some executive interpretation of the law.”
The officials placed the onus on Congress to make any changes to the system.