Trump Ends DACA Program for Young Immigrants: What's Next?

Program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to close in 2017, unless Congress acts.

Ending months of speculation following Donald J. Trump's election, and acting on a recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Homeland Security has announced that it will end the program known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

DACA was instituted in 2012 by President Barack Obama. He did so using an executive order, responding to Congress's failure to pass proposed legislation (the DREAM Act) giving young people who were brought to the U.S. as children a temporary right to live, study and work legally here. DACA applicants were carefully screened for any criminal history or threats to national security, and had to prove that they were students or had finished schooling or military service. Those who were approved received a quasi-lawful status, in which the U.S. government agreed not to deport them for two years at a time (with a prospect for renewal), and could apply for a work permit.

The ending of the program doesn't mean immediate deportations, but it does create uncertainty and fear for the almost 800,000 people who currently benefit from it.

According to Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke, the goal is to "wind the program down in an orderly fashion that protects beneficiaries in the near-term while working with Congress to pass legislation." In a September 5 memorandum, Duke provides the following details about the DACA program's closure:

  • For people who are awaiting decisions on either initial DACA and work permit requests, or renewal applications: DHS will decide their cases on an individual basis.
  • For people who file initial DACA or work permit requests after the September 5 memo: DHS will reject all their applications.
  • For DACA recipients whose DACA benefits will expire between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018: DHS will accept applications for renewal and decide their cases individually, so long as it receives their applications (and they were properly filed) by October 5, 2017.
  • For current DACA recipients: DHS will not terminate their DACA or revoke their work permits (Employment Authorization Documents or EADs) for the rest of their validity periods (unless some other reason comes up to do so; a likely example is a criminal conviction).
  • For DACA recipients wishing to travel outside the U.S.: DHS will not approve any new or pending applications for advance parole (Form I-131). Fees will be refunded. DHS intends to generally honor existing grants of advance parole through their stated validity period. But Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, still has the power to find someone returning to the U.S. inadmissible, even with advance parole. Also, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can revoke or terminate someone's advance parole document at any time.

Although in theory nothing will happen to current DACA recipients right away, and they can continue to stay in the U.S. and work for now, a chorus of voices have protested this decision.

The chair of the American Bar Association (ABA), for instance, issued a statement urging the U.S. Congress to "act quickly to pass legislation that provides a fair, orderly and safe way ahead for the young people affected by this change," and stated, that DACA suspension "without a ready legislative solution threatens the future of thousands of deserving people to pursue their dreams, and places them in danger of deportation. It also threatens our country’s access to a wealth of human potential."

Fairness is also a concern. As Senator Kamala Harris (California Democrat) said, "We promised these more than 800,000 young people—including 200,000 in California—that if they came out of the shadows they could become lawful, productive members of our society. Trump’s decision to shamefully break this promise and turn his back on the Dreamers just shows he is once again on the side of division and hate."

Other immigrant advocates are filing suit. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC), for example, has gone to court in New York to stop the DACA termination.

And DACA recipients themselves are reportedly protesting, for example outside Trump Tower in New York. This has already led to arrests, which are likely to become a quick path to deportation.

Clearly, this story is far from over. But the biggest question is whether a Congress that has for years been promising immigration reform can act within the coming months.