Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed Tuesday that DACA recipients “won’t become a priority” for deportation following the end of the program.
However, similar promises by President Donald Trump to prioritize undocumented criminals have not been borne out by the actions of immigration agents, who have arrested individuals over even simple civil immigration violations. And a DHS official told reporters Tuesday that ending the DACA program would make its former recipients “amenable to removal.”
“DACA recipients, whose average age is in their 20s, were not an enforcement priority before and they certainly won’t become a priority now,” Sanders said at a press briefing Tuesday. “The priorities remain the same: criminals, security threats, and those who repeatedly violate our immigration laws. The main effect of today’s announcement is that work permits and other government benefits are being gradually phased out.”
Later, asked to offer a specific assurance to DACA recipients that they wouldn’t be deported, Sanders did not do so, saying only that “they’re not a targeted priority, but the goal here is that Congress actually fixes the problem, and then that isn’t an issue.”
The claim echoed a White House press release earlier in the day, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that Trump would end the DACA program, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“[A]bsent a law enforcement interest—which is largely the standard that has been in place since the inception of the program—the Department will generally not take actions to remove active DACA recipients,” it read.
In his own statement following Sessions’ announcement, Trump said “[o]ur enforcement priorities remain unchanged. We are focused on criminals, security threats, recent border-crossers, visa overstays, and repeat violators. I have advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang.”
However, a DHS official told reporters on background Tuesday morning that when an individual’s DACA status expires, “[t]hey revert to being present without admission, which makes them amenable to removal.”
The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement himself acknowledged in July that deportation of non-criminals had gone from “zero to 100” under the Trump administration.
On Jan. 25, Trump issued an executive order prioritizing for deportation essentially every undocumented immigrant in the country — including non-criminals who have “abused” public benefits and those who in the judgement of an immigration agent “pose a risk to public safety or national security.”
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