Roughly 900,000 young, undocumented immigrants woke Monday facing a threat many have feared since President Donald Trump took office: Work permits and deportation relief granted to them under an Obama-era program could be gone soon and the federal agency tasked with carrying out his deportation agenda will have their names and addresses.
Trump’s deputies and Republican lawmakers have said that law-abiding Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally when they were children — are not priorities for removal under the administration’s expanded enforcement priorities.
Trump himself has expressed sympathy for them, and has accepted thousands of new beneficiaries into the program known best as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Recent reports by NBC News and other news media, however, indicate Trump could end DACA as early as this week. The Trump administration faces a deadline: Ten states led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have threatened to sue the federal government if the program that began in 2012 does not end by Sept. 5.
Democrats and immigrant advocates have long warned Dreamers not to let their guard down, and are drawing on Trump's own words.
“Rumors @POTUS will end #DACA,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday on Twitter. “I’d like to remind him that he said he would act on Dreamers ‘with heart.’ Now is the time to prove it.”
A White House official on Friday night said the administration had nothing to announce on whether the president will end DACA.
If the program ends, it’s unclear what would happen immediately to those undocumented immigrants who received two-year work authorizations and other benefits under the program.
More than 880,000 people brought illegally to the U.S. before they were 16 years old have had their DACA status renewed, according to data kept by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The oldest Dreamers are now nearly 37 years old, based on the program's eligibility guidelines.
It seems unlikely that an end to DACA would coincide with an effort by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to target Dreamers for removal even though federal agents have already arrested Dreamers whom they claim are affiliated with gangs.
But the move would allow Trump to follow through on a campaign promise that immigration hardliners and the president’s conservative base are eager to see fulfilled.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower immigration levels and increased enforcement, noted in a recent tweet the flurry of White House activity on Friday, including the pardon of convicted ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio, a hard-liner on illegal immigration.
“I thought they'd cancel DACA while they were at it,” Krikorian said on Twitter.
Some in the GOP are urging the president to leave the program alone, including six House members who wrote Trump last week arguing Dreamers “are making immediate contributions to our society and our economy.” California and Texas lead the nation in DACA recipients, according to federal data analyzed by the Pew Research Center.
Rep. Jeff Denham, the California Republican who spearheaded the letter, said separately that “we must continue pressing for immigration reform that will provide them with a pathway to citizenship.”
Immigrant advocates are urging other Republicans to step forward.
“Every Republican elected and administration official who has tried to have it both ways is now on notice,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, the policy and advocacy director for United We Dream, in a statement. “You either oppose the drive to kill DACA or you are complicit in our suffering.”
Meanwhile, House Democrats intend to use their limited power in Congress to gum up the process on a must-pass appropriations bill the chamber is expected to take up when they return the first week of September.
Democrats proposed a slew of immigration-related amendments to the 12-bill omnibus, including one by Reps. Norma J. Torres, D-Calif., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., that would prohibit funds to deport someone who had lost their DACA protections "solely as a direct or indirect result of any action taken by the president or any other Federal official with respect to such program, and not for any other reason."
In January, then-President Barack Obama said he would publicly weigh in against any action by Trump to end DACA, part of the Democratic president's legacy on immigration.
“The notion that we would just arbitrarily or because of politics punish those kids, when they didn't do something themselves [ . . . ] would merit my speaking out,” Obama said at the time.
— John T. Bennett contributed to this report