The Trump administration announced on Tuesday the “wind down” of an Obama-era program that, in part, allows for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants to remain in the country.
The administration officially announced its plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – which provides a level of amnesty to certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children – with a six-month delay for current recipients.
With the delay, the solution for protecting young immigrants from deportation is punted to Congress, with only a few months to pass immigration reform legislation. President Trump urged lawmakers on Tuesday to “do your job” with DACA.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said Tuesday that while DACA will be phased out for current recipients, “no new initial requests or associated applications filed after today will be acted on.”
Read on for a look at how the DACA program works and why the administration disbanded it.
What is the DACA program?
The DACA program was formed through executive order by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and allows certain people, called Dreamers, who come to the U.S. illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation. Recipients are able to request “consideration of deferred action” for a period of two years which is subject to renewal.
“Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services states. “Deferred action does not provide lawful status.”
Individuals are able to request DACA status if they were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, came to the U.S. before turning 16 and have continuously lived in the country since June 15, 2007.
Individuals must also have a high school diploma, GED certification, been honorably discharged from the military or still be in school. Recipients cannot have a criminal record.
It does not provide “legal status.”
How many people are affected by DACA?
Nearly 800,000 undocumented youth are under the program’s umbrella.
Thousands of people could lose their jobs should Trump decide to phase out the DACA program, according to a recent study by the left-leaning think tank, the Center for American Progress.
Nearly 2,000 leaders have signed a letter asking Trump to protect the so-called Dreamers, including eight governors.
“As leaders of communities across the country – individuals and institutions that have seen these young people grow up in our communities – we recognize how they have enriched and strengthened our cities, states, schools, businesses, congregations and families.”
“As leaders of communities across the country – individuals and institutions that have seen these young people grow up in our communities – we recognize how they have enriched and strengthened our cities, states, schools, businesses, congregations and families,” the letter said.
Why did the Trump administration dismantle it?
During the presidential campaign, Trump referred to DACA as “illegal amnesty.” However, he seemingly signaled that he had softened his stance on the program in April when he told the Associated Press that DACA recipients could “rest easy.”
Yet the administration announced its plan to dismantle the program on Tuesday.
Republicans – and some Democrats – opposed Obama’s order from the start as a perceived overreach of executive power.
“The point here is … the president does not have the authority to waive immigration law, nor does he have the authority to create it out of thin air,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said at the time.
King has remained a stalwart Republican against the program; he suggested last week that DACA recipients should turn their parents in to federal immigration authorities.
Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions blasted the Obama administration’s “disrespect for the legislative process” in enacting the 2012 policy Tuesday morning. He also argued that the “unilateral executive amnesty” could have been struck down by courts had it remained in place.
“Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch,” Sessions said.
Former President Barack Obama spoke out on social media Tuesday after the Trump administration’s announcement, stating that it’s “self-defeating … and it is cruel” to end the DACA program, and questioned the motive behind the decision.
Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez also slammed the decision Tuesday as “the latest tactic in the Republican playbook to promote hate and discrimination.”
“Donald Trump has secured his legacy as a champion for cruelty,” Perez said in a statement.
Ahead of the decision, some Republicans stressed the need for protections offered from DACA and urged lawmakers to quickly pass immigration legislation.
Daniel Garza, president of the conservative immigration nonprofit Libre Initiative, told Fox News that DACA offers a “reprieve from a life of uncertainty for innocent kids who didn’t break the law.”
“It’s rather disappointing to think they could return to a state of anxiety and fear,” he said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and a handful of other Republicans urged Trump last week to hold off on scrapping DACA and give lawmakers more time to come up with a legislative fix. But on Tuesday, Ryan, too, blamed the Obama administration for a “clear abuse of executive authority, an attempt to create law out of thin air.”
“Donald Trump has secured his legacy as a champion for cruelty.”
“It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country,” Ryan said.
Congress has repeatedly tried – and failed – to come together on immigration overhaul legislation, and it remains uncertain whether the House would be able to pass anything on the divisive issue.
One thing to consider – the decision to end DACA could toss a wrench in to Trump’s other immigration plans, including securing the border wall, Capitol Hill aides told the Washington Examiner.
Do any DACA recipients serve in the military?
In the fiscal year 2016, 359 DACA recipients had enlisted in the Army – which is the only branch to accept immigrants of this category.
A Department of Defense official said in April that the military would continue to accept noncitizen recruits, but it is unclear if that will continue to be the case now.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.