No End in Sight for DACA as Executive Amnesty Turns Five
Trump administration has processed more than 120,000 new permits for immigration program
Former President Barack Obama’s executive order granting quasi-amnesty turned five years old Thursday, and there is no sign it will end anytime soon — despite campaign promises President Donald Trump made.
The broken pledge remains a sore spot with immigration hard-liners, may of whom praise the president’s performance on other aspects of the issue.
Data released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials last week indicated that the government granted 17,311 new work permits to people under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and renewed another 107,524 permits from January through March. That is roughly equivalent to the number of permits that the previous administration issued from October through December.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said he does not think it is a coincidence that the agency released the statistics during what he termed "Comey-palooza" — last week's testimony from fired FBI Director James Comey.
"The very fact they haven't even stopped issuing new ones, let alone renewals, suggests they don't have any idea what to do with DACA and are just letting it go on autopilot," he said.
Obama established DACA by executive order in 2012 after failing to win passage of legislation granting amnesty to illegal immigrants brought to America as children. It shielded recipients from deportation and granted renewable two-year permits that allowed them to legally work in the United States.
Candidate Trump was clear that he believed DACA not only was bad policy but that Obama exceeded his authority in creating it.
"We will work with them. They have to go," Trump told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd in August 2015. "We either have a country or we don't have a country."
Dale Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, said Trump's original view was the right one. He noted that a federal court order temporarily blocking another Obama-era amnesty program for certain adult illegal immigrants also blocked changes the administration tried to make to loosen the requirements for DACA.
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That case remains pending after the Supreme Court divided 4-4, leaving the preliminary injunction in place.
A federal judge earlier had dismissed a lawsuit challenging DACA for procedural reasons but never ruled on the merits and suggested that the program likely was unconstitutional. In light of the ruling on the other program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, Wilcox said, if a state under the jurisdiction of 5th U.S. District Court of Appeals were to sue today, "They would win."
Trump could greatly simplify that, however, with the stroke of his pen.
"We are very surprised," Wilcox said. "But I think there are different factions in the White House pulling at him not to undo DACA."
"At this point, we are making the assumption that Trump lied about most, if not all, if his immigration promises."
Krikorian said Trump probably is sensitive to the fact that people brought to America as children are the most sympathetic group of illegal immigrants. He said it is hard to revoke a benefit already in place. But he added that the president could, without too much blowback, stop issuing new permits.
Krikorian said it also might be worthwhile for Trump to trade DACA — agreeing to sign a law codifying amnesty for the group — in exchange for progress on some other aspect of immigration policy. He suggested ending the visa lottery system that randomly awards green cards to about 50,000 foreigners each year or curtailing the ability of new citizens to sponsor their extended families for immigration.
But Trump so far has shown little inclination to do that.
Trump's DACA reversal led the Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee to retroactively rescind its endorsement of the president. The group's leader, William Gheen, said he has little hope Trump will change his mind.
"At this point, we are making the assumption that Trump lied about most, if not all, if his immigration promises," he said.
Gheen said his organization is switching to defense, trying to block congressional efforts to pass amnesty. He said from now to the end of the year represents the biggest danger time, since lawmakers will be less likely to make such an attempt in an election year.
"We need Americans to understand that if amnesty reaches Donald Trump's desk, there's a good chance he will sign it," he said.