The Trump administration announced a major rewrite of DACA on Tuesday, saying it will keep the program going — for now — but all new applications will be rejected and those renewing their status will be limited to just one year.
At the same time, the administration will conduct a full legal review, with an eye toward determining whether to attempt another total phaseout of the program after the Supreme Court last month erased President Trump’s initial attempt.
A senior official said the review “will have to take time,” so the program isn’t going anywhere yet. But it will be curtailed.
In addition to blocking new applicants and limiting renewals to one year — half the time currently allowed — the administration will cast a stricter eye on requests for advance parole, which is a backdoor pathway to citizenship that thousands of DACA recipients have taken advantage of.
“These actions will limit the scope of the program while DHS and the administration review its legality, the justifications for a possible wind-down, and other considerations relevant to deciding whether to keep or wind down the DACA policy,” the official told reporters.
Immigration rights activists were enraged and said Mr. Trump is on another collision course with the courts. A federal judge this month ordered a full restart of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as it was in September 2017, before Mr. Trump’s first phaseout attempt — including accepting new applicants.
The activists said they expect Mr. Trump to try another phaseout later.
“Don’t be fooled. As soon as they can get away with it, they will put more than 1 million young immigrants who grew up in America — pledging allegiance to the flag every day in school, fighting to get jobs and study in college, and building families — on a path to deportation from the only country most have ever known,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.
He said Congress must step in and pass legislation guaranteeing a full pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” which is what DACA recipients call themselves.
Democrats on Capitol Hill attempted to do just that Tuesday afternoon. They took to the floor of the Senate to demand speedy passage of a bill that already cleared the House.
Republican senators blocked the attempt.
The DACA program grants a stay of deportation and confers work permits on illegal immigrant Dreamers, who have completed a certain level of schooling and kept a relatively clean rap sheet. Announced by President Obama ahead of the 2012 election, it has become a major test of immigration policy.
Mr. Trump took office vowing to revoke the program, saying it was illegal for a president to grant such a broad amnesty and that it is Congress’ job to deal with the issue.
In September 2017, he announced a phaseout of DACA, igniting a legal battle that culminated in the Supreme Court ruling last month.
Led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court in a 5-4 decision ruled that whatever the legality of Mr. Obama’s move, illegal immigrants had come to rely on DACA and the Trump administration didn’t take them into account when it revoked the program.
The court ruled that the administration does have the power to revoke DACA but it must go through all the hoops.
DACA recipients are the most sympathetic figures in the illegal immigrant population. Many of them were brought to the U.S. by their parents as minors and had no say in the matter. They often have no memory of their home country.
Mr. Trump, in an interview with Telemundo this month, said he would sign an executive order or “act” granting a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. The White House walked that back, saying what the president was really talking about was an executive order reforming the legal immigration system to orient it toward merit-based claims.
Mr. Trump said Tuesday that he is still looking to take action.
“We are going to make DACA happy and the DACA people and representatives happy, and we’re also going to end up with a fantastic merit-based system,” he told reporters.
For now, DACA advocates are anything but happy.
“Today is another cruel day for Dreamers, their families and all Americans,” said Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Over its eight-year life span DACA has approved about 800,000 people, and about 650,000 are currently protected, according to the latest numbers.
DACA was created through a Homeland Security memo in 2012, and the Trump administration tried to phase it out with another memo in 2017.
The action announced Tuesday is yet another department memo, spanning eight pages. In it, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf takes pains to address Chief Justice Roberts’ concerns, dealing with the effects on current beneficiaries of shortening the DACA period to one year.
The memo also says the blockade on new applications is temporary and applications will open again if the administration decides to keep the program after its review.
One key change in the rewrite is tightening the standards for DACA recipients to apply for advance parole. That special permission allows migrants to leave the U.S. and return. Once they are back, it offers them a chance to adjust their status to legal resident if they can find a sponsor through a job or marriage.
DACA recipients had abused that program, using flimsy excuses to apply for advance parole. Over the first three years of the program, the Homeland Security Department reported that nearly 3,000 DACA recipients had adjusted status and started on the path to citizenship through advance parole.
Under the memo Tuesday, only “exceptional” cases will be approved.