More than 20,000 illegal immigrants brought to America as children have gotten protection from a quasi-amnesty program after President Donald Trump ordered it to wind down, according to statistics from the federal government released this week.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which administers the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, reported that it approved 20,572 new applications from October through June. In addition, it renewed DACA status for another 185,086 people.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created DACA back in 2012 for illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States. Beneficiaries who comply with the rules and do not commit crimes get protection from deportation, and work permits can be renewed every two years.
After determining that the Obama administration exceeded its legal authority in creating the program, Trump in September ordered it be shut down. But he instructed USCIS to accept applications for renewals for six months in order to give Congress a chance to codify the program into law.
A pair of federal judges intervened, however, and ordered the administration to continue processing renewals past Trump’s deadline. And a third jurist, U.S. District Judge John Bates, went further and ordered the administration in April to resume taking new applications.
It is unclear how many people currently are enrolled in DACA. Since 2012, the government has approved a total of 819,337 initial applications. But there is some natural attrition.
“Either they were deported [after violating the rules], or they left on their own or, I think, the larger number are people who adjusted to some other [legal] status,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. “Maybe they got married to an American.”
USCIS officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
When Trump ordered a freeze on new applications, the agency indicated that roughly 690,000 people were enrolled.
Also unclear is why the government accepted new applications even before Bates issued his ruling in April. Some number of those approvals appear to be holdovers from before Trump’s executive order. From October through June, while the government approved 20,572 initial applications, it accepted only 1,495 new applications.
Vaughan said that as long as Bates’ order remains in effect, the number of new applications will continue to grow. The program was open to illegal immigrants who were younger than 31 on June 15, 2012, and came to America before the age of 16. They could not apply, however, until they reached the age of 15.
[lz_table title=”DACA Applications” source= “USCIS”] DACA applications approved
“You have to be 15 to qualify because you’re getting a work permit,” Vaughan said. “Because that’s what you’re really applying for. So people age into it.”
Matthew O’Brien, director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), agreed.
“This is going to go on for a good long time unless the Trump administration successfully challenges these decisions that they have to keep taking these applications,” he said.
In addition to the administration’s attempts to end DACA, a group of states led by Texas has challenged the program in court, arguing that there is no legal basis for it without a law passed by Congress. The Justice Department last month indicated it would not defend the program in court.
“This program was illegal in the first place, so it shouldn’t even exist,” O’Brien said.