- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2018

Monday was supposed to be the deadline either when illegal immigrant Dreamers began to lose their status under the Trump administration’s phaseout of the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty, or when Congress would swoop to the rescue and grant them a path to full citizenship rights.

Instead, the week dawns with the program still mostly intact, thanks to the courts. Meanwhile, Congress is stalemated and immigrant rights activists are vowing political retribution on the lot of them — though President Trump takes the brunt of their anger.

“The buck stops with Trump. He’s the president,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sponsored a rally Sunday on the Ellipse just across the street from the White House. “His party controls both houses of Congress. His deadline is arbitrary. He has the power under the Constitution to save our Dreamers.”

Mr. Trump continues to press blame on Democrats, saying he tried to find a deal but was rebuffed by a party unwilling to budge.

“I love the Dreamers,” the president said at a dinner with reporters Saturday. “I’ll be honest. … I really believe the Republicans want to solve this problem — DACA — more than the Democrats and certainly faster. So we’re all working together, and I hope that something’s going to happen. I really do.”

Some lawmakers say they could revisit the issue by March 23, which is when the next spending bill is due. But even then, it’s not clear what a deal would look like, with neither House conservatives nor congressional Democrats eager to meet at Mr. Trump’s middle ground.

All sides on Capitol Hill say it feels like the pressure is off now that the courts have stepped in, kick-starting the program and ensuring that protections can continue.

Trump administration attorneys are fighting the courts but say the March 5 deadline has become meaningless.

“We have to follow the rules and the letter of the law and injunctions,” said Tyler Q. Houlton, spokesman for the Homeland Security Department. “Our deadline was March 5, but court orders have come in and put injunctions in place and we’re going to continue to follow the rule of law.”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was initiated in 2012 by President Obama’s Homeland Security Department as a temporary grant of amnesty, renewable every two years, to illegal immigrants who came forward, went through a cursory background check and paid a nearly $500 fee.

In addition to freedom from deportation, they were given work permits entitling them to hold jobs and get Social Security numbers, which in turn earned them driver’s licenses and taxpayer benefits.

They have become a potent political force in the years since and even spurred Democrats to force a brief government shutdown in January.

Yet the lack of permanent legal status has left them uneasy.

Rallying on the Ellipse clad in what has become their trademark orange knit caps and shirts, Dreamers called on Mr. Trump to revoke his phaseout, restore the DACA program, and instead embrace a mass amnesty for themselves, their parents and other illegal immigrants.

“We are seeds of love,” the Dreamers chanted, even as they called the president racist and nativist.

The criticism is all the more striking because the Trump administration has increased the rate of approvals of Dreamers.

Under the Obama administration, nearly 96.8 percent of Dreamers applying to renew their two-year permits were approved. Under the Trump administration, the approval rate has reached a stunning 98.9 percent.

The Trump administration announced the phaseout of the program on Sept. 5, saying it had concluded the program was unconstitutional, couldn’t be defended in court and needed to be wound down.

The phaseout ended new applications and gave people whose DACA status expired by March 5 a one-month window to apply for renewal, which would last the standard two years. The feeling among the Trump team was that this would be the most humane to Dreamers, while forcing Congress to meet a deadline for a more permanent solution.

In the end, Congress failed — even after Mr. Trump made an offer that seemed stunning in its generosity, embracing a full pathway to citizenship for all DACA recipients and hundreds of thousands of other illegal immigrants, in exchange for border wall funding, policy changes designed to prevent future illegal immigration, and limits to chain migration.

But by then the courts had stepped in. Federal judges in California and New York ruled that DACA was legal and that the president’s phaseout had cut so many corners that it was illegal.

The Supreme Court declined to speed an appeal, leaving the judges’ orders intact. DACA is up and running for the nearly 700,000 people protected, who can apply for renewals.

So far, interest has been moderate.

From Jan. 10 to Jan. 31, some 11,360 people had applied for renewals.

Perhaps more stunning is that the Trump administration still has nearly 22,000 DACA requests from people who have never been approved for the program. Since initial DACA requests were cut off on Sept. 5, that means those people had been waiting for at least five months.

Fewer than 150 were approved from Oct. 1 to Jan. 31. Although the Trump administration has been generous with its renewals, it has been more strict with initial applications, with an approval rate below 80 percent. The Obama administration notched an initial approval rate of more than 92 percent from 2012 through the end of 2016.

Homeland Security officials insist nothing has changed, and they are processing the applications under normal prioritization and in accordance with the same rules as before.

As of Jan. 31, some 683,000 people were being protected by DACA. All told, since the beginning of the program more than 807,000 people had been approved. But about 125,000 of them either allowed their status to lapse, found some other legal avenue to remain in the U.S. or — in about 2,000 cases — had their DACA protections canceled because of criminal or gang activities.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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