President Donald Trump is expected to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a controversial Obama-era policy that shielded immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the US illegally as children.
According to at least two media reports published on Sunday, Trump wants to end the program and delay enforcement for six months. The delay would allow Congress to pass legislation mitigating the effect that DACA's demise may have on the nearly 800,000 immigrants who benefit from it.
Politico reporter Eliana Johnson cited sources who said the White House and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan spoke about the decision Sunday morning.
Trump was set to make an official announcement on Tuesday.
The widely anticipated decision comes after both the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security reportedly held internal discussions about the fate of the program in recent weeks.
Trump repeatedly vowed throughout his presidential campaign to terminate DACA, blasting the policy as unconstitutional. Yet he has wavered on the program since his presidency began, and acknowledged that the issue is a nuanced one.
"We are going to deal with DACA with heart," Trump said at a February news conference, adding that the decision is "very, very difficult."
"To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids — in many cases, not in all cases," he said. "But you have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly — they were brought here in such a way. It's a very, very tough subject."
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What is DACA?
DACA was launched by President Barack Obama in 2012, offering young immigrants the chance to apply for temporary protection from deportation. The program does not grant legal status to immigrants, nor does it put them on paths to citizenship or legalization, but the protection allows them to receive authorization to work legally in the US and in certain states apply for driver's licenses.
Immigration advocates have pleaded with Trump to keep the program in place. They have argued that the immigrants who benefit from DACA should be treated with compassion — they were typically brought to the US by their parents at very young ages, and in many cases grew up without realizing they lived in the country illegally. DACA recipients, known frequently as "dreamers" are also required to meet certain criteria, such as never having been convicted of a felony or "significant" misdemeanor.
Critics — including prominent Trump administration officials like Attorney General Jeff Sessions — have derided the program as an abuse of Obama's presidential power, and voiced complaints about its broad scale, the work authorization component, and the potential for immigrants to exploit a loophole that could place them on a path to citizenship.
The lingering uncertainty around DACA's future under the Trump administration has roiled the immigrant community for months, and left DACA recipients panicked and unsure of what steps to take in the meantime.
"They're in panic mode," said Reaz Jafri, an immigration attorney at the law firm Withers Bergman, whose clients include DACA recipients and their employers.
"DACA invited people who were in the shadows to come forth, get biometrics taken, get put in the system, get a social security number, get a job, take out a loan, open a bank account, get a credit card," Jafri told Business Insider.
"They're wondering, 'Now that I'm no longer protected, can ICE now come and find me? Because ICE now knows where I live, where I work.'"
But despite Trump's previous wavering support and opposition of the program, he was required to make a decision by Sept. 5 or face a lawsuit. In June, 10 attorneys general, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, wrote to Sessions setting the September deadline and threatening to sue over DACA using the same legal framework that successfully challenged a 2014 expansion to DACA and the establishment of a companion program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).
The letter called DACA "unlawful" and said it "unilaterally confers eligibility for work authorization … and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress."
As the deadline for a decision drew near, immigration advocates pointed to the consequences of rescinding protection and work authorization from the nearly 800,000 immigrants who depend on it. A recent study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) and the lobbying group FWD.us found that if DACA were repealed, roughly 700,000 workers would lose their jobs over the next two years, and the estimated loss of their labor could cost the country $460.3 billion in economic output over the next decade.
"Ending DACA would place severe economic strain on businesses around the country, putting them into the impossible and extremely costly position of having to fire productive employees for no other reason than an arbitrary change in federal policy, potentially resulting in backlash from other employees or their broader community," the report said.
The intense pushback from immigration advocates to a potential repeal of DACA hasn't fallen on deaf ears — on Friday, one of the 10 attorneys general who signed the original letter announced his state would stand down on the lawsuit, citing the "human element" of rescinding the program.
"Many of the DACA recipients, some of whose records I reviewed, have outstanding accomplishments and laudable ambitions, which if achieved, will be of great benefit and service to our country," Tennessee's attorney general Herbert Slatery wrote in a letter to the state's two Republican senators.
"They have an appreciation for the opportunities afforded them by our country … our Office has decided not to challenge DACA in the litigation, because we believe there is a better approach."