On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Created in 2012 by an Executive Order (EO) of President Obama, DACA shielded undocumented children who were brought to the United States unlawfully from being deported. In addition, DACA enabled such individuals to obtain employment authorization, attend college and serve in the U.S. military. To date, as many as 800,000 individuals have DACA status.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Agency will stop processing any new applications for the program as of September 5th, but will delay enforcement for six months to give Congress time to find a legislative solution that lets DACA recipients or “Dreamers” remain in the country legally. However, if Congress fails to act, undocumented individuals who were brought to the United States as children could face deportation as early as March 2018 to countries where many of them have not lived since their early childhoods. According to the Center for American Progress, as DACA permits begin to expire, more than 1,000 individuals stand to lose their work permits each day. Business leaders from major companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google, had lobbied the White House not to terminate the program, citing the disruptive economic consequences.
Ending DACA comes at a time where President Trump has sharpened his focus on immigration enforcement as he seeks to rally his conservative base. On June 29th, State Attorney Generals of Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia issued an ultimatum to the Attorney General Sessions demanding that the Trump Administration rescind the DACA program by September 5th or face a lawsuit challenging the program in court. Interestingly, according to the USCIS statistics many of these states, notably Texas, Kansas, and South Carolina, are home to more than 225,790 DACA recipients combined.
The fight over the Dreamers now shifts to Congress, which will need to enact a bill to grant recipients some form of permanent legal status. A bill called the Dream Act that would have offered Dreamers a path to citizenship failed in the Senate in 2010. Several new proposals have been put forward, including the Bridge Act, a bipartisan bill with 25 co-sponsors that would extend DACA protections for three years to give Congress time to enact permanent legislation.
It was my father, Leon Wildes, who discovered the Deferred Action program in the 1970s when he represented famed Beatle John Lennon in a bitterly contested deportation proceeding lodged against him by then President Richard Nixon. It is important to keep in mind that DACA is not and was never law. DACA represented President Obama’s prioritization of enforcement of the existing law, and as such was completely within his authority. By the same token, it is completely within President Trump's authority to change the priorities of enforcement, and since he chose to eliminate the program, it is my prayer that Congress sees this as a wake-up call, and brings the Dream Act up for a vote. Congress' continued silence is deafening: it must act!