It’s down to the wire for President Trump and Republican lawmakers to come up with a plan for the thousands of young, undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Earlier this week, Trump held a publicized, bipartisan meeting with lawmakers to discuss continuing protections for those who fell under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and broader immigration reform.
The Trump administration officially announced its plan to phase out DACA – which provides a level of amnesty to certain undocumented immigrants, many of whom came to the U.S. as children – with a six-month delay for recipients in 2017.
But a federal judge Tuesday temporarily blocked the administration’s decision to halt the program as lawsuits play out in court. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said lawyers in favor of DACA clearly demonstrated that young immigrants “were likely to suffer serious, irreparable harm” without court action.
Read on for a look at how the DACA program worked and why the administration disbanded it.
What is the DACA program?
The DACA program was formed through executive order by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and allowed certain people, called Dreamers, who came to the U.S. illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation. Recipients were able to request “consideration of deferred action” for a period of two years, which is subject to renewal.
“Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stated. “Deferred action does not provide lawful status.”
Individuals were able to request DACA status if they were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, came to the U.S. before turning 16 and continuously lived in the country since June 15, 2007.
Individuals also had to have a high school diploma, GED certification, been honorably discharged from the military or still be in school. Recipients could not have a criminal record.
It did not provide “legal status.”
How many people are affected by DACA?
Nearly 800,000 undocumented youth are under the program’s umbrella.
Thousands of people could lose their jobs if the DACA program is rescinded permanently, according to a study by the left-leaning think tank, the Center for American Progress.
Daniel Garza, president of the conservative immigration nonprofit Libre Initiative, told Fox News that DACA offers a “reprieve from a life of uncertainty for innocent kids who didn’t break the law.”
“It’s rather disappointing to think they could return to a state of anxiety and fear,” he said.
Why did the Trump administration dismantle it?
During the presidential campaign, Trump referred to DACA as “illegal amnesty.” However, he seemingly signaled that he had softened his stance on the program last year when he told the Associated Press that DACA recipients could “rest easy.”
Then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said in September 2017 that DACA would be phased out for current recipients, and no new requests would be granted.
Republicans – and some Democrats – opposed Obama’s order from the start as a perceived overreach of executive power.
“The point here is … the president does not have the authority to waive immigration law, nor does he have the authority to create it out of thin air,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said at the time.
King has remained a stalwart Republican against the program; he suggested in August that DACA recipients should turn their parents in to federal immigration authorities.
Obama spoke out on social media after the Trump administration’s announcement, stating that it’s “self-defeating … and it is cruel” to end the DACA program, and questioned the motive behind the decision.
One thing to consider: the decision to end DACA could toss a wrench into Trump’s other immigration plans, including securing the border wall, Capitol Hill aides told the Washington Examiner.
Do any DACA recipients serve in the military?
Despite some rumors circulating online to the contrary, Dreamers were eligible to serve in the U.S. military since 2014 when the Pentagon adopted a policy to allow a certain amount of undocumented immigrants to join.
In the fiscal year 2016, 359 DACA recipients had enlisted in the Army – which is the only branch to accept immigrants of this category.
A Department of Defense official said in April 2017 that the military would continue to accept noncitizen recruits, but it is unclear if that will continue to be the case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.