Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Department of Homeland Security will phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama-era program that has granted temporary status to nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children.
The Obama administration created DACA in 2012 through executive order — not legislation — which Sessions called an unconstitutional overreach of presidential power. As of Tuesday, the U.S. government will no longer accept applications for the program, and those seeking to renew their status will have until Oct. 5 to file before the program fully ends in March of 2018.
“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here,” Sessions said. “That is an open border policy, and the American people have rightly rejected it.”
President Trump, who made repealing DACA a key promise of his campaign, echoed Sessions with a statement that called the program an “amnesty-first approach.”
“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” Trump said. “But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”
Citing threats from Republican state attorneys general to sue Trump if he didn’t end DACA, Sessions zeroed in on the legality of the program as part of the reasoning behind the administration’s decision.
“This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens,” Sessions said. To support his logic, the attorney general quoted congressional testimony from Georgetown University professor Jonathan Turley that classified DACA a “circumvention of the legislative process.”
But other states threatened to sue Trump if he ended DACA. Attorneys general from Washington State and New York announced late Monday evening that they would file lawsuits after the announcement. And in an August letter to President Trump, 104 legal scholars argued DACA is a “lawful exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” which allows the government to choose which immigrants are a priority for deportation, while deferring others.
Previous constitutional challenges to DACA have also been unsuccessful. In 2015, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit brought by immigration officers, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a similar lawsuit brought by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The six-month window before DACA comes to an end next year gives Congress a chance to pass a law that would give people currently protected under DACA similar opportunities. While several bills have been introduced, it’s hard to say whether any of these will become law, especially considering the intense partisanship in Congress now. Hard-line Republicans have also consistently blocked immigration reform over the last 10 years.
To start, the Bridge Act would extend DACA protections for another three years. The Dream Act would go a step further and provide a path to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. as children. Finally, the Recognizing America’s Children Act would allow young undocumented immigrants who work full-time to enroll in school or serve in the military and then apply for permanent status after five years without committing a crime. (DACA already prohibited applicants with serious criminal histories.)
In the meantime, civil rights advocates worry that the administration’s decision to rescind DACA will embolden immigration officers to go after recipients over the next six months. Others have worried since before Trump’s election that his administration could use the DACA database as a list for deportations. In a statement Tuesday, however, the Department of Homeland Security denied info on DACA recipients would be “proactively provided” to immigration agents, although their information “maybe be available upon request.”
“They know where I live. They know where my family lives,” said DACA recipient Maria Praeli on a press call with the National Immigration Law Center, which plans to file a lawsuit challenging the administration’s decision.
“Not having the program in place, does that mean we are now the easiest target for them?” she asked. “They asked us to come forward and give up all of our information, and now we could potentially face deportation because we did what the government asked of us.”
Here are Attorney General Sessions’ comments in full:
Good morning. I am here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama Administration is being rescinded.