The Trump administration has approved tens of thousands of temporary amnesties for illegal immigrant Dreamers, according to numbers released Thursday that underscore a major reversal for President Trump.
The decision has enraged the president’s conservative base, which hoped he would make good on his promise to revoke the policy, known in governmentspeak as DACA.
But immigrant rights advocates, who were harshly critical of Mr. Trump during the campaign, said he deserves some credit for defying his right wing and keeping the program intact.
“I definitely think that he does deserve credit for continuing a very successful program for young people who grew up here,” said Cesar Vargas, a Dreamer who is now a practicing lawyer.
Mr. Trump appears to be maintaining the pace of the Obama administration, with more than 17,000 new two-year amnesties and more than 107,000 renewal applications approved from Jan. 1 to March 30. Both numbers are comparable to the final full three months of President Obama’s tenure.
All told, some 780,000 Dreamers have been granted DACA status under the 2012 program, amounting to a 92 percent approval rate. DACA protects against deportation for two years and grants work permits and entitles the immigrants to benefits such as driver’s licenses and some tax credits.
Greisa Martinez, advocacy director at United We Dream, a nationwide group of Dreamers, said she appreciated the continuation of the program but added that Mr. Trump was bowing to political realities.
“The credit goes to the community and the supporters who did not allow him to keep his promise,” she said.
“He’s making a political calculation. The president’s already unpopular. What does it look like to go after immigrant young people?” said Ms. Martinez, a DACA recipient. “He didn’t win the presidency by not being connected to what the right political moves are.”
The Homeland Security Department referred questions about the decision to the White House, which didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.
But Mr. Trump has publicly struggled with how to handle Dreamers.
At some times he suggested that they would be deported, but at other times he said he would try to find a solution to make all sides happy.
To qualify for DACA, illegal immigrants must have come to the U.S. as children, been in the country by 2007, been 30 or younger as of 2012 and have pursued their high school diploma. DACA recipients are granted work permits entitling them to Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses and other taxpayer benefits.
This week, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said he would like Congress to grant a more permanent status to Dreamers.
“I am hoping, frankly, because there is bipartisan support for doing something about DACA legally, legislatively,” Mr. Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee.
Mr. Trump’s base was angered by Mr. Kelly’s suggestion of permanent legal status.
“Fire this illegal alien amnesty backer,” said William Gheen at Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, which backed Mr. Trump early in his election campaign.
Some Trump operatives had worked on an executive order to repeal DACA at the beginning of the Trump administration. They concluded that the program would be frozen, with no new approvals, but those with current DACA status would be allowed to see out the rest of their two-year terms.
Those efforts never materialized.
Matt O’Brien, a former official of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who is now research director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Mr. Trump should have followed through on the halt.
“I think the administration should stop the new approvals and, quite frankly, I think they should be allowing the existing approvals to expire,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Even as the president allows the program to remain intact, immigration advocates have complained that some Dreamers are still being deported.
They have staged rallies and campaigns around several high-profile cases, including that of Jessica Colotl, a Georgia woman who came to the U.S. at 11 but who now faces deportation. Homeland Security revoked her DACA status, which the Obama administration twice approved.
In a federal court hearing in Atlanta on Thursday, her attorneys said the revocation was bogus and pleaded with a judge to order her DACA restored.
“I want to make sure that DACA recipients are protected. That’s why this case is so important for me personally and for the community,” Ms. Colotl said after the hearing.
Homeland Security initially said Ms. Colotl was being deported because she admitted to lying to a police officer after a traffic stop in Georgia. But the government has since said that is not the case.
Instead, government attorneys told the judge Thursday that she may meet all the criteria for DACA yet still fall within “enforcement priorities,” The Associated Press reported.
A ruling is expected next week.
Ms. Martinez, the advocate from United We Dream, said even as Mr. Trump has continued to process DACA applications, he should rein in deportation agents.
“I’m proud the program still stands and I get to keep my job and my DACA. But you are seeing the nibbling of the edges of the program by the agents,” she said. “The next steps are for them to get control of the agency.”