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Trump Delays Effort to End Protections for Immigrant ‘Dreamers’

2020-07-28 22:53:38

WASHINGTON — President Trump will not try again to immediately terminate President Barack Obama’s program that protects young undocumented immigrants, after the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Mr. Trump’s first attempt to make good on a crackdown that is at the core of his political identity.

Instead, the administration announced new restrictions on the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has allowed about 650,000 undocumented immigrants to live and work in the country legally.

Amid a “comprehensive review” of the program, Chad Wolf, the acting homeland security secretary, announced in a memo that immigrants who already had protections would be allowed to renew their status under the program for one year, rather than two. The memo, which is intended to replace the one that originally established DACA in 2012, also said that first-time applicants to the program would be rejected.

The announcement appears to directly contradict an order by a federal judge, who ruled last month that the administration must immediately begin accepting new applications for the program. It will most likely face immediate legal challenges.

“We obviously have no choice but to go back to court,” said Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer on the case against the administration’s move to eliminate DACA that reached the Supreme Court. “It was illegal the first time, and now it’s a constitutional crisis. It’s as if a Supreme Court decision was written with invisible ink.”

Immigrants rights groups saw the revised memo as a first step toward completely eliminating DACA. It could also energize Mr. Trump’s base by suggesting that the program would eventually be scrapped, while helping the president avoid the blowback from images of young people being deported just before the election.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted in June found that three-quarters of Americans support not only allowing so-called Dreamers to remain in the United States, but also providing them a path to permanent residency.

“I think they made the calculation that by deferring the final blow to DACA until after the election that they would be able to escape taking the hardest hit,” said Omar Jadwat, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Officials declined to say how long the review would take or whether it would be completed before the general election in November, although the decision to allow one-year renewals suggested that Mr. Trump and his aides did not envision making another attempt to end the program before the vote.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of DACA beneficiaries who have felt their futures to be in peril reacted with exasperation to the latest development.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” said Pierre R. Berastaín, whose application for a two-year renewal of his DACA status, which allows him to work at Harvard University, his alma mater, was approved this past month. “I’m very cognizant of the tremendous anxiety of people who are in limbo.”

Mr. Berastaín said that as he waited for a Supreme Court decision on his fate, he dusted off an old safety plan he had developed as a student and updated it with current contact information for his loved ones, his lawyers and any elected officials who might be able to intervene on his behalf if he was arrested by immigration authorities.

“I had this extreme anxiety and depression because of the instability of my situation,” he said.

Groups that favor tighter restrictions on immigration were gratified that the program would at least be curtailed.

“It’s a smart move,” said Jessica M. Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, one such group. “In this way, he manages to keep the ball in Congress’s court without having to keep the program going on autopilot.”

Ms. Vaughan said she thought Congress should ultimately decide the fate of the program, but that for now lawmakers should remain focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.

Mr. Trump’s promised assault on immigration, including a pledge to end DACA, was critical to his election victory in 2016 and became a central part of his administration’s agenda as he moved to keep out refugees and asylum seekers, to build a wall across the southwestern border and to reduce legal immigration.

Mr. Trump’s initial move to end DACA in 2017 was blocked for more than two years by federal judges who said he had failed to provide proper justification for ending a program that allowed some young undocumented immigrants to live and work in the United States without the threat of deportation.

The Supreme Court agreed last month.

The president has long argued that DACA was an illegal use of executive authority by his predecessor. But he has wavered about what should be done to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who benefit from it. At a White House news briefing Tuesday evening, Mr. Trump said, “We are going to make DACA happy and the DACA people and representatives happy, and also end up with a fantastic merit-based immigration system.”

He again said he was working on a merit-based immigration bill that he could enact without Congress, an assertion that is false.

Thousands of undocumented young people who have turned 15 since the original rescission — the minimum age required to apply — had expected the government to begin accepting new applications to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.

However, the agency that processes DACA applications has been rejecting them, according to immigration lawyers, while it has continued to process renewals for current recipients.

Most legal scholars interpreted the ruling to mean that the original program had been revived and that, therefore, new applications must be accepted. An administration official said on Tuesday that the memo issued that day would legally justify the decision against approving new applications.

Mr. Obama created DACA in 2012 after Congress refused to provide a permanent path to citizenship for the young immigrants. Most of the Dreamers are in many ways indistinguishable from the American citizens with whom they attended elementary, middle and high school.

The program has strict requirements. To be eligible, applicants have to show that they had committed no serious crimes, had arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and were no older than 30, had lived in the United States for at least the previous five years, and were in school, had graduated from high school or had received a General Educational Development certificate, or were honorably discharged from the military.

Mr. Trump has at times expressed sympathy for the immigrants who are protected by the program even as he denounced it as an illegal use of presidential authority.

In 2017, his hard-line advisers — including Stephen Miller, the architect of his immigration agenda; Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist; and Jeff Sessions, his attorney general — urged him to end the program, which at the time faced a legal challenge from several conservative attorneys general.

Michael Crowley contributed reporting from in New Haven, Conn.; Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington; and Miriam Jordan from Los Angeles.


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