WASHINGTON ― Undocumented young people and immigrant rights advocates prepared for battle on Friday amid rumors that President Donald Trump will finally fulfill a campaign promise to strip legal work permits from hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants and put them back at risk of deportation.
The White House said Friday that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is “currently under review,” and a spokesman for DHS said no updates are expected on Friday. But on Thursday, rumors spread on Capitol Hill and in the advocacy community that an announcement ― and not the one they hoped for ― could come as soon as Friday, bolstered by a report by Axios that Trump was seriously considering ending the program. On Friday, ABC News also reported that Trump is leaning toward ending DACA.
Dreamers “will fight like hell” to defend DACA, Greisa Martinez Rosas, advocacy director of the group United We Dream, said in a statement, referring to killing the program as a “violent white supremacist priority.”
“Trump said that immigrant youth could ‘rest easy’ and Speaker [Paul] Ryan said we were safe, but has done nothing,” she said. “Now Trump is considering taking protections away from me and 800,000 immigrant youth to make us vulnerable to being chased down by ICE agents, locked in detention camps and deported. This is outrageous.”
United We Dream and other groups plan to rally outside the White House on Friday afternoon in support of the program.
Advocates fear that instead of Trump maintaining protections for so-called Dreamers ― young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children ― as he has for the past seven months, the president could shut down DACA, either by stripping work permits and protections immediately or by disallowing current recipients to renew once their two-year status ends.
That would mean nearly 800,000 people would find themselves unable to work legally, taking them out of the workforce and potentially leaving employers scrambling to replace them. More importantly, it would mean nearly 800,000 people who came forward to the government, paid a fee and passed a background check ― some of them multiple times ― would be at imminent risk of deportation from an administration that has ramped up removal efforts.
Trump is facing a Sept. 5 deadline set by state attorneys general to end DACA or face legal action. Thus far, the Department of Justice has refused to say whether it would defend DACA if it came up in court, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long been one of the biggest critics of the program.
Trump has sent mixed messages about DACA for months. During the 2016 campaign, the president vowed to end President Barack Obama’s 2012 DACA program as part of a broader plan to ramp up deportations and drive out undocumented immigrants. Mayors, members of Congress, civil rights groups and immigrants themselves urged Trump not to follow through, and he has so far opted to let the program continue.
As president, Trump has indicated for months that he is sympathetic to the plight of Dreamers. He said in February that he would “deal with DACA with heart.” In July, Trump said he would ultimately make a decision about what to do with DACA.
“It’s a decision that I make and it’s a decision that’s very, very hard to make. I really understand the situation now,” he said. “I understand the situation very well. What I’d like to do is a comprehensive immigration plan. But our country and political forces are not ready yet.”
From January to March of this year, most of which was during Trump’s presidency, about 17,000 people received DACA status for the first time and about 108,000 renewed their status.
But the Trump administration also detained or deported current and recent DACA recipients at a higher rate than under Obama, according to immigrant rights advocates, who also argued the president’s general crackdown on immigration emboldened Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to disregard the program.
In June, a coalition of 10 states led by Texas threatened legal action against the administration if the president did not end DACA by Sept. 5. They said they would attempt to tack the legal challenge of DACA onto their pending lawsuit against another Obama immigration program, which they successfully blocked. Because DACA had already been in place for five years, it was unlikely that U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen could have affected the program, even if he had ultimately ruled that it violated the Constitution. Legal wrangling over the program likely would have taken years and ultimately ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
There are multiple bipartisan bills that would create protections for Dreamers, but the administration has not supported them. The White House immediately shot down the latest iteration of the Dream Act, a bill to give young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Trump has also not indicated support for the Bridge Act, meant to be a stopgap measure to temporarily continue work authorization and deportation reprieve for people eligible for DACA in the event that the program was ended.
Earlier this week, top White House officials were reportedly pushing for a deal that would protect Dreamers while also cutting legal immigration numbers, mandating that employers check hires’ immigration status and adding funding for a border wall and immigrant detention facilities. Democrats said such a proposal was a nonstarter and that Dreamers should not be used as a bargaining chip.
If Trump ends DACA, Congress will be under increased pressure to step in and address Dreamers.
A White House spokesperson told HuffPost in an email that Trump “has indicated that he is sympathetic to the participants of the program. However, only Congress can legislate a permanent fix for the situation current DACA recipients face.”
For now, United We Dream is “laser-focused” on pressuring Trump to maintain the program and asking members of Congress to do the same, versus pressing for legislation, Martinez Rosas said on a call with reporters on Friday.
DACA has been life-changing for its recipients. Along with two-year work permits, it made many Dreamers eligible for driver’s licenses for the first time so they could safely get to work or school. Some were able to attend medical school, approved to practice law or made eligible for in-state tuition. Some young people were able to leave the country to visit their families for the first time in years.
It was also a boost to the economy, according to analysis from the progressive Center for American Progress, which estimated that ending DACA would reduce the U.S. gross domestic product by $433.4 billion over a decade.
Center for American Progress President and CEO Neera Tanden tied the potential end of DACA to Trump’s recent statements on neo-Nazi and white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his overall immigration efforts.
“It’s shocking and outrageous but not surprising, especially given the recent events in Charlottesville and the administration’s continued assault on communities of color,” she said. “Trump apparently has no qualms about putting lives of DACA recipients on the line simply to score political points with his far-right, anti-immigrant supporters.
Roque Planas contributed reporting. This article has been updated with detail from a Friday call with United We Dream and White House statements.