Young, Undocumented Immigrants’ Program Still Going, for Now

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By Laura D. Francis

The federal government is continuing to accept and process applications for former President Barack Obama’s deportation protection program for young, undocumented immigrants.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “is still accepting/processing DACA requests under existing policy,” agency spokesman Steve Blando told Bloomberg BNA in a Jan. 23 e-mail. The deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program provides relief from deportation and work permits for renewable two-year periods.

As of Sept. 30, 2016, there are more than 750,000 immigrants protected under DACA.

President Donald Trump made a campaign promise of terminating DACA and Obama’s companion program—the deferred action for parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents—immediately upon taking office. But since winning the election, Trump has taken a softer tone on “Dreamers,” the young immigrants that DACA covers.

“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Trump said of program recipients in an interview with Time magazine that was released Dec. 7.

DACA Not One of First Actions

And on his first official day in office Jan. 23, terminating DACA wasn’t one of the president’s first acts. Rather, Trump signed orders withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, withdrawing taxpayer funding for abortion overseas and freezing federal hiring.

When asked during a Jan. 23 press conference about Trump’s plans for DACA, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he would “focus on those who are in this country illegally who have a criminal record or pose a threat to the American people.” Those individuals are the “priority,” and then the administration will “work through” its plans for dealing with the remainder of the undocumented population, Spicer said.

“You’ve got to take Trump at his word,” that “he is going to cancel the executive actions including DACA,” Cleveland immigration attorney David Wolfe Leopold told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 23. Just because those actions weren’t canceled on the first day doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the first week or the week after, he said.

But Leopold, a past president and past general counsel of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he was “relieved” that DACA still exists. He also was “relieved” that Spicer didn’t say Trump is ending the program.

“I think we ought to have a definite statement from the administration that they will continue DACA” so that eligible immigrants have some clarity on how to proceed, Leopold said.

‘Mistake’ to Apply Now

It would be a “mistake” for immigrants who haven’t already applied for DACA to do so now and turn over their information to the Trump administration, he said. But those who are renewing DACA are in a different situation because the government already has their personal information, he said. The main risk for that group would be loss of the $495 filing fee, Leopold said.

If someone sends in an application and the program gets terminated before the USCIS starts processing it, it’s likely that the fee will be returned, he said. But if the agency already has started the processing and cashed the check at the time of termination, that money very well may be gone, he said.

That’s why Leopold said he’s also advising clients to hold off on filing renewal applications for the time being.

“Let’s see what happens on day two,” he said.

Mounting Pressure

Political pressure for Trump to keep DACA has been mounting since the election.

In addition to lobbying by Dreamers and their supporters, a bipartisan group of senators recently reintroduced the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act (S. 128), legislation that would provide temporary legal status and work permits to immigrants in and eligible for DACA until Congress can work out a long-term solution. There’s also a bipartisan companion measure (H.R. 496) pending in the House.

There was “unprecedented opposition” to the president the day after his inauguration, Leopold said, referring to the Women’s March Jan. 21 that drew nearly 3 million protesters to cities worldwide. Trump has an electoral win, but not “the mandate of the people of the United States,” he said.

“I think the voice of the people in this country count,” he said. The voice of the Dreamers got Obama to create DACA in the first place, and “that’s what’s going to keep DACA in place,” Leopold said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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