Trump Administration Begins Rollback of DACA Program—What Happens Now?

Sep 12th, 2017 | By | Category: Advocacy, News, News and Events
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Jeff Frost


—On Tuesday, September 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be ended with a six-month delay to allow the Congress time to act on a replacement. The DACA program was begun in 2012. Under the administration’s action, the Department of Homeland Security will no longer accept new DACA applications, and those who currently hold a DACA permit will not be able to renew them if they expire after March 5, 2018. Before this action, DACA protections are renewable indefinitely as long as the applicant is not convicted of a crime. DACA does not provide a path to citizenship and does not allow recipients to vote.

The elimination of the DACA program had been a major campaign pledge from candidate Donald Trump, but there was hope for DACA supporters when the president indicated during the last few months that he was undecided on how to handle the program and that he would “act with much heart” in deciding what action to take. The recent action by the Justice Department, with the issue being kicked to Congress, has now created a major political battle and thrown one more contentious issue into the lap of a Congress that has a series of critical issues to face in the final months of the session. These issues include disaster funding for the Houston area as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, an extension of the debt ceiling (which will need Democratic votes to pass), tax reform, and perhaps one more effort at health-care reform.

United States Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) had said on Sunday, September 3, that the pressure on the Trump administration to either defend or rescind the DACA program was a “crisis manufactured by Republicans.”  September 5 was the deadline given to the president to act on DACA before a group of eight attorneys general would file suit in federal court on the DACA program. In a series of tweets calling for President Trump to defend the program, Durbin warned of the consequences of ending it. Raising the main argument for maintaining the program, Durbin tweeted, “I call on @POTUS to keep his promise to Dreamers and #defendDACA. #DACA protects 800,000 young immigrants who are American in every way except their immigration status.”

Is Congress Likely to Act?

The decision to push the DACA program off for six months and allow the Congress time to enact a successor policy had long been the approach many members of Congress supported. There are supporters of DACA in both parties and many have worked together on legislation that would maintain the program. Both leaders, Senator McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan, have expressed sympathy for the plight of the “Dreamers.” However, very few important issues in Washington, DC, are dealt with without the inevitable attachment of trade-off issues being added as a point of leverage. As an example, Republican Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) has openly floated the trade-off of protecting DACA recipients in exchange for the Democrats’ support for the funding of a border wall or a tougher set of immigration laws. Democrats in both houses have quickly stated that Dreamers are not to be used as a bargaining chip. Still other members of Congress are looking for a more independent solution. A coalition of senators, including Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), and Dick Durbin, have introduced a bipartisan bill that could serve as the outline for a final compromise. In addition, 46 Republican members of Congress sent tweets over the September 3 weekend seeking a legislative solution to the DACA repeal. Even with this bipartisan group seeking a stand-alone solution to the DACA repeal, well-connected immigration advocates are predicting a “30-70 percent chance” that Congress will successfully pass legislation that would essentially codify DACA. One of these same advocates indicated to Politico that “I just don’t think we can make the mistake of assuming the opposition isn’t formidable, even if we have some conservative support.” However, given the important leverage and political consequences the issue brings, a negotiated deal is, in my view, far more likely.

With a DACA Repeal in the Balance, What Will California Be Doing?

It seems that California has been preparing for the Trump Administration’s repeal of DACA for months. When Governor Jerry Brown appointed Congressman Xavier Becerra as the new attorney general, the congressman made it clear that he would represent the state in court in an effort to support and protect California’s recipients of DACA. Both he and the governor have expressed their willingness to fight this battle publicly and in the courts. Attorney General Becerra has indicated in recent days in interviews that he is “prepared to use every tool at our disposal and look at every option available to us to try to protect people who built California. We are prepared to defend the DACA program in court.” However, the path to defending the program is likely to be challenging. The state’s legal authority could be limited in an effort to affect national immigration policy. But California will no doubt be joined by attorneys general in many other states, including New York.

In a different but complementary action, Becerra sued the Justice Department in August of 2017 over the Trump Administration’s plan to cut off millions of dollars in federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities unless they began to cooperate with federal immigration agents. California’s suit argues that the threat made by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions undermines public safety and violates the Constitution. Sessions has bluntly stated that “if local governments wanted the Justice Department’s money, they had to agree to allow federal immigration agents to interview immigrants at their jails and to give federal authorities 48 hours’ notice before releasing anyone with potential immigration violations.” Sessions accuses officials in sanctuary cities of protecting dangerous criminals from immigration authorities. To counterargue Sessions’s point, officials in sanctuary cities have stated that their communities are safer when immigrants trust local authorities to report crimes and serve as witnesses without fear of deportation.

According to the Justice Department, its immigrant policy is to focus on illegal immigrants who have a criminal record or a history of violence. Where the DACA students fall into this priority list is not known yet. The California legislature’s efforts on issues such as creating sanctuary state status for California are still moving through the legislature. Governor Brown, while expressing some concerns about the bill, has been talking with the author of the bill SB 54, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon. In October, SB 54 could be signed into law, which could make it much harder for DACA recipients to be deported. Additionally, there seems to be a strong push by California’s institutions of higher education to keep the door open to DACA students. “Our doors will be wide open for all eligible undocumented students. They are welcome and wanted,” stated Long Beach State University President Jane Close Conoley. It is estimated that 72,300 undocumented students are enrolled at the UC, CSU, and community college systems.


Now that the Trump Administration has moved to eliminate the DACA program, it is not time to assume the worst. There is significant support for the DACA recipients, including from some of the largest businesses in the nation, such as Apple and Google. Additionally, two Republican California Congressional representatives, Jeff Denham (R-Modesto) and David Valadeo (R- Hanford), have actively supported the DACA program. The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee is well aware that the DACA issue could cause significant losses for Republicans in the House in 2018. While the reauthorizing of the DACA program will be difficult and could get leveraged over a series of other issues, there is a strong chance that the program will be maintained. We will keep everyone informed as this process plays itself out.

Jeff Frost is CATESOL’s legislative advocate.


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