Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on Sept. 5, saying the Obama-era policy was unconstitutional and the Department of Justice “cannot defend this type of overreach.”
Since June 2012, DACA has given almost 800,000 illegal immigrants a renewable, two-year reprieve from deportation, as well as work authorization and access to social security.
DACA recipients must have arrived in the country illegally before their 16th birthday and must have been under 31 when they applied for DACA status, among other criteria.
Former president Barack Obama introduced DACA in June 2012 as a “temporary, stopgap measure.”
“Now, let’s be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship—it’s not a permanent fix,” he said at the time.
The average age of DACA recipients is 25 and those at the maximum age are now 36. Eighty-one percent of the recipients are Mexican, but some come from countries as far flung as Pakistan and the Philippines. Nine percent are citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala.
Forty-five percent of DACA recipients live in California or Texas, with New York, Illinois, and Florida rounding out the top five states.
On Sept. 5, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rescinded the Obama’s 2012 memo that established DACA and said it will no longer receive new DACA applications.
Renewal applications received by Oct. 5, will be processed for current DACA holders whose benefits will expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018. The program won’t be completely phased out until March 2020.
As of Aug. 20, there were 34,487 initial requests pending and 71,854 renewals, according to the DHS.
The DHS said it will not “proactively provide” information from DACA applications to its enforcement arms for deportation purposes.
President Donald Trump reassured DACA recipients that they are not priorities for deportation, “unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang.”
“We are focused on criminals, security threats, recent border-crossers, visa overstays, and repeat violators,” Trump said in a statement on Sept. 5.
The phase out timing gives Congress six months to come up with a permanent solution.
“I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act,” Trump said. He added that the legislative branch is responsible for writing immigration laws—not the executive branch.
“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws,” he said.
Trump said he had “great heart” for DACA recipients.
“I have a love for these people, and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly,” he said at a tax reform meeting after Sessions made the initial announcement.
“We have to be able to do something, and I think it’s going to work out very well. And long-term, it’s going to be the right solution.”
DACA Challenge in Court
Sessions said that if DACA was challenged in court—as pledged by 10 Republican state attorneys general—it would face the same outcome as the extended version of DACA and the amnesty for parents, known as DAPA.
On June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court upheld a decision to block Obama’s 2014 attempt to expand DACA and introduce DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans).
DAPA would have granted temporary deportation reprieve and work authorizations to an estimated 3.6 million illegal immigrants who had a child that was a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and met certain other criteria.
In June this year, the Trump administration ended the DAPA amnesty altogether.
Sessions said the end of DACA is an important step toward putting an end to the previous administration’s “disrespect for the legislative process,” which “not only undermines the authority of this branch but destabilizes the tripartite system as a whole.”
“We are a people of compassion, and we are a people of law,” Sessions said. “But there’s nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws. It is my duty to make sure the the laws are enforced.”
Trump said Washington has failed to enforce immigration law for decades, with both “predictable and tragic consequences.”
He said the consequences include “lower wages and higher unemployment for American workers, substantial burdens on local schools and hospitals, the illicit entry of dangerous drugs and criminal cartels, and many billions of dollars a year in costs paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
“Before we ask what is fair to illegal immigrants, we must also ask what is fair to American families, students, taxpayers, and jobseekers,” Trump said.
“Above all else, we must remember that young Americans have dreams too. Being in government means setting priorities. Our first and highest priority in advancing immigration reform must be to improve jobs, wages and security for American workers and their families.”
The Trump administration is backing immigration reform that moves to a system based on merit, rather than the current family-based system. Under the merit system, applicants are awarded points for criteria such as age, education, language ability, and work experience. If the United States has a need for certain types of workers, the system can be adjusted to give those industries more points.
A revised version of the RAISE Act, which is based on a merit system, was introduced to Congress in August.
Criteria For DACA Recipients
Recipients must demonstrate that on June 15, 2012, they were:
- under the age of 31 years
- physically present in the United States
- had no lawful status
As of the date they filed a request they must:
- have resided continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007;
- had come to the United States before their 16th birthday
- were physically present in the United States; and
- were in school, have graduated from high school in the United States, or have a GED; or
- were an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
UPDATE: This article was updated Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m. to add quotes from President Donald Trump.