DACA Double Take: A Month After ‘Dreamers’ Cheered SCOTUS Decision, Trump Administration Considers Second Effort to End Program, Halting New Applications

DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 18, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it will not accept new applications to an Obama-era program that offers deportation relief and work permits to some 650,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as young children, laying the groundwork for a new round of political and legal fights over the fate of so-called “Dreamers.” 

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced that his agency would “thoughtfully consider the future” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, including whether it should be terminated. Instead of pulling the plug on the program immediately, the administration announced that it would conduct a “comprehensive review” while imposing a slew of new restrictions. Current recipients are allowed to renew their DACA status for one year, the agency announced. Under previous rules, recipients were required to renew every two years. 

Whether the government would accept new DACA applications has been a major question since mid-June, when the Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s years-long effort to end it. The court didn’t rule on the merits of DACA or the Trump administration’s authority to terminate the program. However, in a ruling on procedural grounds, the court’s majority found that the administration’s justification for terminating the program was “arbitrary and capricious” and that officials failed to consider how ending DACA could affect its beneficiaries.

When the Trump administration announced plans to terminate DACA in 2017, officials argued that the Obama administration had acted outside its legal authority. That decision was quickly delayed by a series of legal hurdles as several federal judges ruled against the Trump administration, leaving much of the program intact as the issue weaved its way through the courts. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Maryland ordered the government to resume accepting new applications. An estimated 98,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year, according to recent estimates from the Migration Policy Institute.

Though the move is likely to spur new court challenges, the administration argued that the Maryland court order doesn’t apply because it launched a new review of the program’s fate. 

“As the Department continues looking at the policy and considers future action, the fact remains that Congress should act on this matter,” Wolf said in a statement. Though Wolf’s statement puts new pressure on lawmakers to tackle immigration reform, Congress has long failed to reach a compromise. 

Earlier this month, Trump said he plans to sign “a very big bill” on immigration that would give DACA recipients a “road to citizenship,” though it remains unclear what steps he’ll take on the issue before the November election. 

Immigrant-rights groups were quick to criticize Tuesday’s news. On Twitter, the National Immigration Law Center called the announcement “another cruel and divisive move that puts hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth back in limbo.” In a press release, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the administration of replacing DACA with a “skeleton program.” 

Though DACA has been a divisive issue for years — and Trump made eliminating the program a staple in his bid for the White House — polls suggest overwhelming support for Dreamers. A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 68 percent of Republicans — and 69 percent of voters who pulled the lever for Trump in 2016 — favor the immigration protections. 

“Make no mistake, the vast popularity of the program, combined with a looming election, prevented Trump from immediately ending the program,” Andrea Flores, the ACLU’s deputy director of immigration policy, said in the release. But Tuesday’s announcement “makes his intentions clear: His next move is a complete end to the DACA program to destroy the lives of Dreamers once again.” 

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