White House halts new DACA applications amid ‘review’

Current beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals will receive yearlong renewals

A protester holds up a sign outside of the U.S. Supreme Court last November while justices heard arguments on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A protester holds up a sign outside of the U.S. Supreme Court last November while justices heard arguments on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 28, 2020 at 4:47pm

The Trump administration said Tuesday it will reject any new applications for the Obama-era program that shields immigrants unlawfully brought to the U.S. as children as it conducts a "comprehensive review" of the program and how to end it.

During a call with reporters, a White House official said current beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will receive yearlong renewals that will protect them against deportation and allow them to work in the U.S.

“The administration's next acts on DACA will be on the basis of the comprehensive review of the substantive, legal and legal policy justifications offered for winding down the program. Obviously, to do this correctly and thoughtfully, the review will have to take time," according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a call arranged by the White House.

The official did not say how long the review might take.

The Department of Homeland Security followed up on the call by issuing a memo confirming it would only renew deportation protections for current DACA recipients, often referred to as “Dreamers,” and for a one-year renewal instead of the usual two. 

“DACA policy, at a minimum, presents serious policy concerns that may warrant its full rescission,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in the memo. “At the same time, I have concluded that fully rescinding the policy would be a significant administration decision that warrants additional careful consideration.” 

The announcement comes after the Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that the White House violated procedural law in how it originally rescinded DACA. The 5-4 decision, however, left the door open for a reboot.

[Dreamers, Congress see hard work ahead despite court ruling]

The ruling came as a relief to roughly 700,000 young people — undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children — who are able to live and work in the United States because of DACA.

The senior administration official told reporters that the Supreme Court did not rule on the lawfulness of DACA.

“The issue that the court reached and its decision was only that the administration had insufficiently justified its wind down of the DACA program,” the official said.

Tuesday's announcement defies an order made earlier this month by a Maryland federal judge who said the White House must comply with the Supreme Court ruling and immediately begin accepting new DACA applications that advocacy groups had said were still not being processed. 

Judge Paul W. Grimm, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, said in his ruling that the order “restores the DACA policy to its pre-September 5, 2017 status,” a reference to when the Trump administration announced plans to rescind the program.

The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that 66,000 young people have just become eligible for DACA, but were prohibited from applying since the administration tried to end the program in September 2017. 

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President Donald Trump first tried to end the Obama-era program shortly after he was sworn into office, giving it a six month wind-down period. However, after several failed congressional attempts to pass a legislative solution to protect Dreamers, federal courts intervened and thwarted the administration from ending the program.

Tuesday’s DHS memo is expected to face legal challenges, and some immigration experts expressed hope it would prompt lawmakers to pass a Democrat-backed bill (H.R. 6) that would provide a pathway to citizenship for thousands of Dreamers. 

"Having lost before the Supreme Court, the administration is trying to have it both ways,” Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at Center for American Progress, said in a statement Tuesday.

“Congress cannot give this administration another minute to play with the lives of Dreamers and their families. The time to pass H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, is now."

The DACA program was created in 2012 under the Obama administration through an executive action, after years of failure to pass legislation protecting this group of immigrants. Many DACA beneficiaries are now college students or working adults and have family members who are U.S. citizens.