Facing the threat of a lawsuit from Texas and nine other states, the Trump administration indicated Wednesday that it may decline to defend DACA in court, a move that would likely result in the end of the program that granted amnesty to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. when they were children.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly went up to Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon to address members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, telling them, according to reports, that although he personally supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he can’t promise that the administration will defend it if challenged.
Several members of Congress pressured Kelly in the meeting, and he responded by suggesting they work to pass a law.
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a Cuban-American and a Democrat, told reporters after the meeting: "It's not a pretty picture."
At issue is the 2012 memorandum signed by President Barack Obama that allowed people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to apply for two-year work permits, and to be granted a reprieve from deportation. Anyone under 30 years of age who came to the U.S. illegally before the age of 16 and before June of 2007 is eligible.
The program was referred to by critics as a blanket amnesty, as it has effectively legalized more than 750,000 people who have been granted DACA status. These people have been able to live and work in the U.S. as though they were legal residents.
The Pew Research Center has estimated that another one million people already in the U.S. may qualify for DACA.
The policy led to a surge at the border in 2014 and 2015, with many families and unaccompanied minors flowing into Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
"Logically, it really was the signal that if you get your kids here, we'll let you stay," Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform told LifeZette.
At the end of June, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with nine other state attorneys general, sent a letter to the Trump administration, threatening to sue if the administration did not, by Sept. 5, 2017, rescind the memo that created DACA.
"If, by September 5, 2017, the executive branch agrees to rescind the June 15, 2012, DACA memorandum and not to renew or issue any new DACA or Expanded DACA permits in the future, then the plaintiffs that successfully challenged [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans] and Expanded DACA will voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit currently pending in the Southern District of Texas," he wrote. "Otherwise, the complaint in that case will be amended to challenge both the DACA program and the remaining Expanded DACA permits."
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly said about illegal immigrants: "They can't stay."
"Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation," he said at one rally.
At another he promised: "We will immediately terminate President Obama's two illegal executive amnesties, in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants."
But after he was inaugurated, Trump softened and seemed to indicate that he wouldn't prioritize ending DACA, saying about so-called dreamers: "They shouldn't be very worried, I do have a big heart."
"The problem is, DACA is illegal," Mark Kirikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies said last month. In January, he'd written that it seemed as though Trump was breaking his promise on DACA by continuing to approve DACA status for illegal aliens.
Krikorian estimated that during the first three months of 2017, the Trump administration gave access to work permits, Social Security numbers, driver's licenses, tax credits, and more to 13,436 illegal aliens — an average of 192 a day.
In June, Kelly rescinded the 2014 executive order that created the DAPA program, saying that he saw no legal path forward for the program in the face of a lawsuit brought by Texas and the other states.
The Washington Post reports that one member of Congress who was in the meeting with Kelly on Wednesday, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), was visibly shaken afterwards, saying, "Jeff Sessions is going to say, 'Deport them.' If you're going to count on Jeff Sessions to save DACA, then DACA is ended."