New applications will no longer be accepted, while those currently in the program will all lose their status by March 2020, with the first permits expiring in March 2018 – unless Congress passes legislation allowing them to stay.
Attorney general Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s plans to phase out the 2012 policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) by 5 March 2018, leaving Congress with six months to enact new protections for Dreamers through legislation.
“I am here today to announce that the program known as Daca that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded,” Sessions said in a statement delivered from the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington.
“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest. We cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. It’s just that simple.”
His remarks came hours after Trump placed the onus on US lawmakers, tweeting:
"Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA! "
Trump’s move followed months of speculation over whether he would keep intact or tear apart a landmark executive action by Barack Obama that lifted the threat of deportation for migrants brought to the US before they were 16.
Around 800,000 such people live in the US, qualifying by having been under the age of 31 as of 15 June 2012. Their status must be renewed every two years.
Sessions repeatedly referred to the group of young, undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens” while declaring: “The nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we admit each year and that means all can not be accepted.
“This does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way,” the attorney general said in his brief statement, taking no questions from the assembled media. “It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them.”
In a bid to mitigate the immediate effects of Trump’s decision, the Department of Homeland Security will allow anyone with a Daca permit expiring between now and 5 March to apply for a two-year renewal, so long as the application is submitted by 5 October. But other Dreamers whose permits do not expire within the next six months would be poised to lose their status as early as 5 March, exposing them to the threat of deportation.
The administration also declared that new applications for Daca dated after 5 September will not be considered, shutting down access to the program for those who are not already beneficiaries.
Pressure had mounted on Trump to determine the fate of Daca. Activists on the right bemoaned the president’s failure to immediately rescind it. In an attempt to force a decision, 10 state attorneys general, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, imposed an arbitrary deadline of 5 September on which they threatened to take the administration to court.
Immigration advocates intensified their campaign to keep Daca intact while directing their pleas to Republicans in Congress. Youth groups launched a hunger strike in the Wisconsin congressional district represented by House speaker Paul Ryan, calling for legislation to make the status of Dreamers – named after a failed Senate bill – permanent.
“I actually don’t think he should do that,” Ryan said. “I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.”
Though he reiterated his belief that Obama did not have the authority to issue Daca via executive action, Ryan said: “There are people who are in limbo. These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.”
Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants went on to gain temporary status through Daca, which enabled them to study and work legally in the US and obtain documents such as driver’s licenses, for which they were previously ineligible.
Conservatives decried Obama’s action as unconstitutional but his administration turned to it after multiple failed attempts by Congress to resolve the status of Dreamers through legislation known as the Dream Act.
The majority of Daca recipients are from Mexico, comprising roughly 78% of the program, according to the to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. California is home to more than 22,000 initial Daca recipients, the highest in the country, followed by Texas, which has more than 124,000 recipients, and Illinois, with more than 40,000 recipients.
Recently, a bipartisan pair of pro-immigration reform senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Dick Durbin of Illinois, revived the Dream Act while urging Trump to address the young pool of immigrants with sympathy.
“President Trump, you’re going to have to make a decision,” Graham said at a press conference on Capitol Hill in July. “The campaign is over.”
As a candidate, Trump repeatedly pledged to tear apart Daca on “day one” of his presidency. But shortly upon taking office, the president signalled that he might reconsider his approach to the Obama-era policy.
“We are going to deal with Daca with heart,” Trump said in February. “The Daca situation is a very difficult thing for me, as I love these kids, I love kids. I have kids and grandkids, and I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and, you know, the law is rough.”
Persistent fears have nonetheless loomed over immigration advocates, bolstered by a series of harsh new policies that have paved the way for more deportations. While Dreamers have largely been protected thus far, though the deportation in April of one Daca recipient, 23-year-old Juan Manuel Montes, garnered headlines as the first known case of a Dreamer removed from the country under Trump