WASHINGTON – The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will reject new applications and shorten renewal periods for an Obama-era program that shields young people from deportation, taking a defiant stance after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to let it be scrapped completely.
The move, detailed in a memo from Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, ended a month of uncertainty about how the administration would respond to its Supreme Court defeat in an election year that has President Donald Trump looking for ways to energize his base.
Wolf said the administration may try to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program again, casting it as a law enforcement issue that could contribute to illegal immigration. He said the federal government needs more time to consider next steps, presenting the measures as a temporary change.
“DACA makes clear that, for certain large classes of individuals, DHS will at least tolerate, if not affirmatively sanction, their ongoing violation of the immigration laws,” Wolf wrote in the memo.
About 650,000 people are part of DACA, which allows young immigrants who were brought to the country as children to legally work and shields them from deportation. Roughly 66,000 more would be eligible if new applications were accepted because they met the age requirement — 15 — after the Trump administration tried to end the program in 2017, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
The government will deny all new applications, limit renewals to one year instead of two, and deny requests by DACA recipients to visit their home countries unless there are “exceptional circumstances.” Recipients may seek permission to return home for family events, such as funerals or weddings, and other reasons, though the Trump administration has generally denied them.
The Supreme Court ruled last month that Trump failed to follow rule-making procedures when he tried to end the program, but the justices kept a window open for him to try again.
The White House has been devising plans to make another push to end DACA, though it was not immediately clear whether he would make the politically sensitive move before November’s election. Democratic rival Joe Biden wants to keep DACA unconditionally.
A federal judge in Maryland ruled earlier this month that the program should be restored to its original form, but the administration was mum until Tuesday on whether it would start accepting new applications. The White House anticipates legal challenges.
The administration’s monthlong silence had unnerved many DACA recipients and those who wanted to join. U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm of Maryland, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has given the administration until the end of Friday to update the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website and start adequately explaining why applications are rejected.
Legal experts were skeptical of the Trump administration's authority to roll back parts of the program.
“This is a move that is in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and a federal court ruling,” said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, an immigration law professor at Penn State Law in University Park, Pennsylvania. “It’s a lawless landscape that we are in.”
Immigrant rights advocates blasted the move as cruel.
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition accused the administration of further marginalizing immigrants. The American Business Immigration Coalition called it economically harmful. And the American Civil Liberties Union vowed to continue its yearslong fight to prevent the program's demise.
Laura Mendoza, a program manager at The Resurrection Project in Chicago, joined DACA in 2013 and will have to renew next year. She said the $495 annual renewal fee would be difficult for many to pay.
“It’s infuriating that we continue to be the punching bag for the administration,” she said of fellow DACA recipients. “The administration is slowly dismantling the program."
Wolf, the Homeland Security chief, acknowledged that the $495 renewal fee will be a burden on DACA recipients who will have to apply annually instead of every other year, effectively doubling the cost. He said the department would consider lowering the fee.
Trump has tried unsuccessfully to work with Congress on a broader immigration package that would couple DACA with tougher enforcement measures. He has said lately that he would announce sweeping new steps on immigration, a promise he reiterated Tuesday.
“We’re going to work with a lot of people on DACA,” Trump told reporters. “And we’re also working on an immigration bill, a merit-based system, which is what I’ve wanted for a long time.”
Trump said he would make DACA recipients “happy” without saying how.
Top Democrats urged for a legislative solution that would allow for a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
“With the presidential election just three months away, it’s clear the president will do everything possible to rally his supporters at the expense of Dreamers,” according to a statement from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to the name often used for DACA recipients. “They shouldn’t have to live under the constant fear that DACA protections will be ripped away at any moment.”
Spagat reported from San Diego. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.
This story was first published on July 28, 2020. It was updated on July 29, 2020, to make clear that roughly 66,000 more people would be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program if new applications were accepted because they met the age requirement after the Trump administration tried to end the program in 2017.