It’s down to the wire for President Trump and Republican lawmakers to come up with a plan for the thousands of young, undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Trump met with lawmakers on Thursday to discuss what to do with the so-called Dreamers, especially after he announced last year that he was dismantling the Obama-era program that allowed for some protections for certain immigrants.
“We’re all working in an effort to develop an immigration reform plan that will serve the interests of the American workers and the American families and safety,” Trump said at the start of Thursday’s meeting, which was attended by a handful of Republican senators, including John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The Trump administration officially announced its plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – which provides a level of amnesty to certain undocumented immigrants, many of whom came to the U.S. as children – with a six-month delay for current recipients in 2017.
With the delay, the solution for protecting young immigrants from deportation was punted to Congress – and Republicans and Democrats are both pushing for different things.
Trump has said that any deal he signs regarding immigration reform would also need to include funding for the border wall, more money for immigration enforcement, an overhaul of the family-based immigration system and an end to the diversity lottery program.
Most Democrats are not on board with Trump’s litany of requests, and some have threatened they will not go ahead with a spending bill until protections for Dreamers are established.
Read on for a look at how the DACA program worked and why the administration disbanded it.
What is the DACA program?
The DACA program was formed through executive order by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and allowed certain people, called Dreamers, who came to the U.S. illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation. Recipients were able to request “consideration of deferred action” for a period of two years, which is subject to renewal.
“Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services states. “Deferred action does not provide lawful status.”
Individuals were able to request DACA status if they were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, came to the U.S. before turning 16 and continuously lived in the country since June 15, 2007.
Individuals also had to have a high school diploma, GED certification, been honorably discharged from the military or still be in school. Recipients could not have a criminal record.
It did not provide “legal status.”
How many people are affected by DACA?
Nearly 800,000 undocumented youth are under the program’s umbrella.
Thousands of people could lose their jobs if the DACA program is rescinded permanently and completely, according to a study by the left-leaning think tank, the Center for American Progress.
Nearly 2,000 leaders signed a letter asking Trump to protect the Dreamers, including eight governors.
“As leaders of communities across the country – individuals and institutions that have seen these young people grow up in our communities – we recognize how they have enriched and strengthened our cities, states, schools, businesses, congregations and families.”
“As leaders of communities across the country – individuals and institutions that have seen these young people grow up in our communities – we recognize how they have enriched and strengthened our cities, states, schools, businesses, congregations and families,” the letter said.
Why did the Trump administration dismantle it?
During the presidential campaign, Trump referred to DACA as “illegal amnesty.” However, he seemingly signaled that he had softened his stance on the program in April when he told the Associated Press that DACA recipients could “rest easy.”
Yet the administration announced its plan to dismantle the program in September 2017.
Then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said that while DACA will be phased out for current recipients, “no new initial requests or associated applications filed after today will be acted on.”
Republicans – and some Democrats – opposed Obama’s order from the start as a perceived overreach of executive power.
“The point here is … the president does not have the authority to waive immigration law, nor does he have the authority to create it out of thin air,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said at the time.
King has remained a stalwart Republican against the program; he suggested in August that DACA recipients should turn their parents in to federal immigration authorities.
Obama spoke out on social media after the Trump administration’s announcement, stating that it’s “self-defeating … and it is cruel” to end the DACA program, and questioned the motive behind the decision.
Ahead of the decision, some Republicans stressed the need for protections offered from DACA and urged lawmakers to quickly pass immigration legislation.
Daniel Garza, president of the conservative immigration nonprofit Libre Initiative, told Fox News that DACA offers a “reprieve from a life of uncertainty for innocent kids who didn’t break the law.”
“It’s rather disappointing to think they could return to a state of anxiety and fear,” he said.
Congress has repeatedly tried – and failed – to come together on immigration overhaul legislation, and it remains uncertain whether the House would be able to pass anything on the divisive issue.
After the announcement, Trump said people should not worry about the decision.
“For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about,” Trump tweeted. “No action!”
One thing to consider: the decision to end DACA could toss a wrench into Trump’s other immigration plans, including securing the border wall, Capitol Hill aides told the Washington Examiner.
Do any DACA recipients serve in the military?
Despite some rumors circulating online to the contrary, Dreamers were eligible to serve in the U.S. military since 2014 when the Pentagon adopted a policy to allow a certain amount of undocumented immigrants to join.
In the fiscal year 2016, 359 DACA recipients had enlisted in the Army – which is the only branch to accept immigrants of this category.
A Department of Defense official said in April that the military would continue to accept noncitizen recruits, but it is unclear if that will continue to be the case now.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.