Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.
President Donald Trump has ended the DACA program, or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday. The program will not accept any applications starting Wednesday.
“I’m here today to announce that the program known as DACA, that was effectuated under the Obama administration, is being rescinded,” Sessions said.
In a phone call with reporters Tuesday morning, a DHS official said on background that current DACA beneficiaries whose permits expire before March 5, 2018 would be eligible to re-apply for an extra two years of protected status. However, that means hundreds of thousands of people whose permits expire after March 5 would be eligible for deportation as early as the next day, ABC News first reported.
The official claimed that DHS “will not take action to remove active DACA beneficiaries. The transfer of information from USCIS to ICE would only take place where there is a significant law enforcement or national security interest.”
The attorney general did not take any questions after his announcement Tuesday, but Trump made clear earlier Tuesday that he wished to wash his hands of the problem, telling Congress to legislate a solution — “do your job – DACA!” he tweeted — and allowing underlings in his administration to deliver the news in his place.
DACA currently protects nearly 800,000 young undocumented people from deportation, and it could have protected many more had Trump chosen to maintain the program. Some in Congress, including Republicans, have begun attempts to replace DACA with legislation, but it’s far from likely that both the Republican-controlled House and Senate and the President will agree on a solution to protect undocumented people.
DACA recipients can attend college and receive work permits, among a slew of other benefits. Though the Obama administration did deport DACA recipients who lost protected status due to criminal behavior, such deportations of one-time “Dreamers,” a shorthand for young people protected by DACA, have spiked under the Trump administration, the Los Angeles times reported in April.
In a statement Tuesday, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security attempted to paint Trump’s decision as the “least disruptive option,” citing a threat from several Republican attorneys general to sue the government over the program if it was not rescinded by Tuesday.
“As a result of recent litigation, we were faced with two options,” Elaine Duke wrote, “wind the program down in an orderly fashion that protects beneficiaries in the near-term while working with Congress to pass legislation; or allow the judiciary to potentially shut the program down completely and immediately.”
“We chose the least disruptive option,” wrote Duke, who issued the actual memo on Tuesday that ended the program. She said she had received Sessions’ recommendation that the program be rescinded on Monday.
However, during his announcement Tuesday, Sessions seemed to agree with the attorneys general who threatened the lawsuit, saying that former President Obama had overstepped his authority in establishing the program.
“Ending the previous administration’s disrespect for the legislative process is an important first step,” he said.
Trump did in fact pledge during the 2016 presidential campaign to end the program, saying in August of last year that he would “immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties,” referring to DACA and another program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). DAPA never actually went into effect due to a federal judge’s injunction, which eventually resulted in a Supreme Court split on the matter. Trump rescinded DAPA in June.
Still, Trump told ABC News days after his inauguration that Dreamers “shouldn’t be very worried.”
“Where you have great people that are here that have done a good job, they should be far less worried,” he added.
And in April, he told the Associated Press that his administration was “not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals,” adding: “That is our policy.”
Still, even then, Trump’s promises to DACA recipients were beginning to fray.
Lawyers for Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old DACA recipient, argue that he was deported by immigration agents despite his protected status. Judge Gonzalo Curiel last week said he needed to hear from Montes in person before proceeding with the case, the USA Today reported.
Trump has also strayed from his campaign-era promises to only target “criminal illegal immigrants” for deportation.
That term has come to mean nearly anyone in the United States without proper documentation, including those solely charged with civil immigration violations.
In an expansive executive order days after his inauguration, Trump broadened the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement priorities to include anyone found to have, among other things, “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” or “abused any program related to receipt of public benefits,” and even individuals who, in the opinion of an immigration agent, “pose a risk to public safety or national security.”
And the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, said in late July that deportations of non-criminal undocumented immigrants had gone from “zero to 100” under Trump’s watch.
“Under the prior administration, noncriminals were not a priority,” Homan said. “So when you go from zero to 100, of course you’re going to see the biggest rise in that.”
There is no evidence that undocumented young people who would otherwise have been eligible for DACA protections won’t now be deported as a result of the President’s actions. Indeed, some DACA recipients and applicants could see the information they gave the government be used against them.
Rallies to “Protect DACA” have taken place nationwide in recent weeks, and activists gathered in front of the White House Tuesday to protest Trump’s decision.
DACA recipients themselves have frequently rallied in public on the program’s behalf, often resulting in their arrest.