Pro-immigrant activists are growing increasingly pessimistic that the Trump administration will defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from court challenges.
The program, based on an executive order signed by former President Obama, gives work permits and protects from deportation around 750,000 people who were illegally brought into the country as children.
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly told Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) lawmakers this week that he didn’t believe the program was legally sustainable.
Kelly urged members to come up with a legislative solution that could provide permanent relief to Dreamers, as DACA recipients are commonly known.
But neither legislators nor activists are optimistic that could happen, much less in a short time frame.
“I think that this is the way they’re going to get rid of it,” said Brent Wilkes, CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the country’s oldest Latino civil rights organization.
“They’ve already told the CHC that it won’t survive a challenge, which means the Trump administration is not going to defend it,” he added.
DACA’s legality is being challenged by a lawsuit brought by Texas and nine other states.
The Trump administration hasn’t yet said whether it will defend the program.
“It’s a decision that I make and it’s a decision that’s very, very hard to make. I really understand the situation now. I understand the situation very well. What I’d like to do is a comprehensive immigration plan. But our country and political forces are not ready yet,” Trump said Wednesday.
“There are two sides of a story. It’s always tough,” he added.
A White House official speaking on background said no determination has been made on the future of the program
The Department of Justice declined to comment for this story.
While Trump and Kelly have left the door open to continuing DACA — Trump extended the program last month — the program’s defenders are wary of leaving its legal defense up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Now Secretary Kelly says he thinks DACA is illegal and once again, that it is out of his hands and up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions – only America’s number one opponent of immigration; Any immigration,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Thursday in a floor speech.
And advocates for DACA argue that ultimately it will be the administration’s defense of the program, not the program’s legality itself, that determines its fate.
“If the folks in charge of defending it are not going to, the chances of it surviving are really nil,” said Wilkes.
The Supreme Court last year heard a case on Obama’s executive actions on immigration that ended in a 4-4 deadlock, effectively ending the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded DACA programs.
DACA itself was not a part of that case, and it was left untouched.
But Kelly’s warning on Wednesday reignited fears among DACA supporters that had subsided since the June extension.
Moderate Republicans have said a legislative fix is within reach, and made more urgent by the legal challenge.
Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) called it “the most urgent” immigration priority, and also said it is the “easiest” part of the immigration system to fix.
Republicans on the right applauded the challenge.
“Hats off to the state Attorneys General that have brought this,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told the media on Friday.
Wilkes said he’s pessimistic that any legislation benefiting immigrants can be pushed through this Congress.
“The anti-immigrant folks really have the upper hand,” he said. “A bunch of people ran on the anti-immigrant agenda and unfortunately they’re in power now.”