The Trump administration announced its plan Tuesday to eliminate an Obama-era policy aimed at protecting Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a press conference that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, will fully expire on March 5, 2018. "The program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded," he said. "The policy was implemented unilaterally, to great controversy and legal concern."
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said in a statement that President Trump chose to "wind the program down in an orderly fashion that protects beneficiaries in the near-term while working with Congress to pass legislation."
DACA gave about 800,000 undocumented youth who arrived to the U.S. as children a two-year renewable work permit and shielded them from deportation. The program was implemented by President Obama through executive action five years ago, after efforts to enact the DREAM Act failed again in Congress. Even though DACA allowed people who qualified for the program to work and study legally, it didn't offer a path towards legalization or citizenship.
In a statement, President Trump said, "We will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion – but through the lawful Democratic process – while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve. We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans."
Now that the Trump administration is rescinding DACA, here's what you need to know.
Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security will stop taking new applications.
Undocumented immigrants who might have qualified for DACA and were planning on applying soon won't be able to do so. In her statement, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said, "No new initial requests or associated applications filed after today will be acted on."
However, those who have already applied for DACA before Tuesday will see the application process go normally.
DACA recipients can renew permits until October 5.
The Trump administration is giving DACA recipients whose permits are set to expire before March 5, 2018 until October 5 to submit their final renewal application. Those whose current permits expire on March 6 or later won't be eligible for renewal.
The program will fully expire in six months.
The idea behind setting the March 5 deadline is to give Congress time to come up with new legislation to protect Dreamers. Trump had signaled he was kicking the issue to the Hill in a tweet early Tuesday, writing, "Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!"
It's unclear what will happen after March 5 if Congress doesn't pass any legislation protecting Dreamers. There was a bipartisan effort early this summer re-introducing the DREAM Act once again. But the likelihood that the bill will fail is very high, as it doesn't have majority support from the Republican Party, which controls Congress.
DACA recipients won't be a priority for deportation — in theory.
Homeland Security said it won't target DACA recipients — who voluntarily provided all their personal information to the government in order to qualify for the program — for deportation. Even though they will be eligible, they won't be a top concern.
However, advocates fear Dreamers could get caught up in deportation proceedings even if they're not a priority. President Trump signed an executive order in January expanding the powers of immigration officials, and data shows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been increasing the number of "non-target" arrests in their raids.
Dreamers now will have to wait for Congress, and no one knows how this decision will impact them.
Some Dreamers will keep a work permit and be protected from deportation until 2020 if they're able to renew it by October 5. However, the most vulnerable will be those who are unable to renew their permits by that date and will be the first to be eligible for deportation.
It's unclear if a fractured Congress will be able to come up with legislation to satisfy all factions of the Republican Party and President Trump. And in the meantime, DACA recipients might lose all that they have built in the last five years: They could lose their jobs if it's not clear they'll be able to work legally anymore; they will likely lose their driver's licenses in many states; students might find themselves working towards a degree that will be useless without the ability to get a job; and families with mixed status will be forced to figure out what the future might bring.
What you can do as an ally
Provide support: If you know a Dreamer, be there for them. This is a difficult time, so listen to their concerns and provide emotional support. Also, share mental health resources that could help them deal with the uncertainty over the next six months.
Organize: There will be several pro-Dreamer protests this week. Join one and make your voice heard. Or, look for immigration organizations you can donate your time or money to. Here is a list of national groups that could use your help.
Call your representatives: Congress is back in session after summer recess, and your elected officials have their plates full with other issues. This is the time to call and ask them to pass comprehensive legislation that will help Dreamers, even after DACA ends. (Here's an easy how-to guide.) You can also use the Dream Act Toolkit to identify if your senators and representatives are key swing votes who could help pass the DREAM Act.