WASHINGTON ― It might have seemed like there was a glimmer of hope for young undocumented immigrants on Thursday, when Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said President Donald Trump told him he would extend a deadline for Congress to act on deportation protections for so-called “Dreamers” if lawmakers failed to do so by March 5, 2018.
The only problem: The president can’t extend a program he’s already killed.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, rescinded by the Trump administration on Sept. 5, “is terminated in its entirety,” said Marshall Fitz, who works at Emerson Collective, an organization that advocates for immigration reform.
“The idea that you could somehow extend it is a figment of Lankford’s imagination,” Fitz told reporters on Friday. “The harm is happening today, and it will continue up through March 5 and beyond.”
When Trump rescinded DACA, he said he was giving Congress until March 5 to act ― implying that until that time, his decision wouldn’t affect anyone’s lives.
Trump did not immediately strip the nearly 700,000 current recipients of their two-year work permits or deportation protections, and he gave DACA recipients whose permits expired on or before March 5 one month to apply to renew.
But for many, the effect was immediate: Anyone whose DACA permit is set to expire on March 6 or later was barred from applying to renew it, and will now be subject to deportation as early as the day his or her protections lapse. People without DACA protections are barred from applying. And anyone who was eligible for renewal but did not apply in time has either already lost their protections, or will lose them between now and March 5 ― potentially affecting tens of thousands of people.
Trump cannot simply “extend” a deadline on DACA. People are slated to lose DACA protections on a rolling basis, and the program that would allow them to renew them has been rescinded. The only way for them to prolong their protections would be for Trump to restart a program that his administration has said is unconstitutional, and for the administration to begin accepting and approving applicants quickly enough to serve those set to lose their protections on March 6 or later.
In other words, the idea that everyone’s DACA protections will remain in place until March 5 is bogus. People are already being hurt by Trump’s decision, and will continue to be hurt well before ― and well after ― the deadline arrives.
“Every day Republicans don’t pass the Dream Act, they’re responsible for someone becoming undocumented and subject to deportation,” Tyler Moran, a longtime immigration advocate and managing director at the organization DC Immigration Hub, said at the same press briefing. The Dream Act is a bill that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which grants DACA permits, declined to comment on whether it could restart the program, citing active litigation. The Trump administration was sued by multiple parties for rescinding DACA.
Trump has played up the six-month period as if DACA won’t really end until then, saying he would “revisit” the issue if Congress doesn’t act.
Lankford’s comments on Thursday were based on a conversation he had with Trump the same day, according to the senator’s office.
“The president’s comment to me was that ‘We put a six-month deadline out there. Let’s work it out. If we can’t get it worked out in six months, we’ll give it some more time, but we’ve got to get this worked out legislatively,’ ” Lankford said Thursday, according to The Washington Post, adding that Trump said he wanted a legislative solution.
Lankford spokesman D.J. Jordan downplayed the quote and told HuffPost that Trump “didn’t tell Lankford anything that he didn’t tweet out earlier that day,” referring to the president’s Sept. 5 tweet about “revisit[ing] this issue.” Trump reiterated that statement to Lankford during a phone call but did not use the word “extension” and did not discuss what he meant by “revisit” in detail, Jordan said.
Lankford has said Congress should act before March 5 and has introduced a bill called the SUCCESS Act that would grant legal status to certain Dreamers.
“Senator Lankford believes it is vitally important that Congress settles the DACA issue to protect Dreamers as soon as possible,” Jordan said in an email. “He believes Congress must stop kicking the can down the road on our immigration problems, including uncertainty for Dreamers.”
The White House declined to comment on what Trump told Lankford, but spokeswoman Kelly Love said the president “has made clear he wants Congress to act and pass responsible immigration reform in conjunction with any legislation related to DACA, which will include legal authorities to close border security loopholes, restore interior enforcement, and reform the legal immigration system.”
Democratic leaders in Congress have said they would be willing to agree to border security measures ― but not a wall ― in exchange for Dreamer protections, but wouldn’t go further. They are pushing for the Dream Act, the bipartisan bill that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children, and have committed to making it a top priority.
Fitz, Moran and other immigrant rights advocates said they believe the best ― and maybe only ― chance is to add Dreamer measures to a must-pass spending bill in December. The idea that Republicans are making a serious effort to get standalone Dreamer legislation through by “regular order” ― passing it through a committee and then on the House and Senate floors ― is “bullshit,” Frank Sharry of America’s Voice told reporters.
“The Republicans like to say they have until March 5 to get it done,” Sharry said. “Quite frankly, any time a Republican says ‘We have until March 5,’ I hear, ‘We’re not going to get anything done.’ That’s what I hear. Because it’s just an excuse to keep kicking the can down the road.”
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