What is DACA and what happens if Trump scraps it?

American dreamers.
American dreamers.
Image: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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According to several reports, Donald Trump is all but set to announce his termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly referred to as DACA. But what exactly does that mean, and whom does it affect?

What is DACA?

The policy, introduced 2012, protects so-called DREAMers, or immigrants who would have qualified for protection under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors act (DREAM), a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate in 2001 with the intent of carving out a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who had come into the US before turning 16.

The criteria of eligibility for the DREAM act included:

  • Having entered the US with a non-immigrant visa
  • Having documented arrival in the US before turning 16
  • Having lived in the US for at least five consecutive years since arriving
  • If male, having registered with the selective service for potential military conscription
  • Being between the ages of 12 and 35;
  • Having been admitted, attending, or having graduated from an American high school
  • Having passed a General Education Development test (GED)
  • Being of “good moral character”

(Though the DREAM act failed to pass, as did many variations of the DREAM bill, the group it was going to protect has since been referred to as DREAMers.)

The DACA policy reflects some of the provisions that were part of the DREAM act, granting DREAMers renewable, two-year deferrals from deportation, as well as permits to work in the US.

According to the American Immigration Council, up to 1.8 million immigrants—over half of them in California and Texas—were eligible for DACA when the program went into effect. According to former Obama Homeland Security appointee Eric Columbus, 780,000 people benefit from the program at the moment.

What do Americans think of DACA?

DACA supporters have been protesting around the clock in front of the White House. According to an NBC News and Survey Monkey poll, 64% of adults aged 18 and over support the policy.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a status this week in support of the policy. “We need a government that protects Dreamers,” he wrote. “Today I join business leaders across the country in calling on our President to keep the DACA program in place and protect Dreamers from fear of deportation.” Those business leaders include Apple CEO Tim Cook, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and hundreds of others.

College campuses have showed support for the policy too. A pro-DACA rally was held at New Jersey City University on Wednesday (Aug.30). On the same day, Amherst College president Carolyn Martin sent a letter to Trump urging him to “protect and defend” DACA.

The American Psychological Association and United States Conference of Bishops have also submitted statements of support.

In the political realm, House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly said that Trump should not terminate the program and that “this is something that Congress has to fix.”

Ryan’s view—that Obama did not have the constitutional authority to create DACA, but fixing it requires a legislative solution—is shared by leading Latino conservatives. While “this program was not created in the appropriate constitutional manner,” reads a statement by a group of Latino conservatives, “we should remember that DACA beneficiaries were brought into the country as minors, not on their own volition.” The group called on Trump to “ask Congress to pass DREAM ACT legislation” to give those recipients legal status.

Why would Trump scrap the program?

Terminating DACA would mean allowing repatriation of immigrants who came to the US as children. In some cases, those immigrants have built families and had kids in the US—as American citizens, those children would be separated from their parents, were they to be deported.

A separate program called DAPA had been proposed to allow parents of American-born children to remain in the US, but its implementation was opposed by 26 states in a lawsuit. DAPA was ultimately rejected by a federal court, and the Supreme Court stayed the ruling.

Ending DACA had been one of Trump’s campaign promises, but early in his term the US president assured those protected by DACA that they “shouldn’t be worried,” saying the White House was looking at “the whole immigration situation… with great heart.” In an FAQ published on the Department of Homeland Security website on June 15, it was confirmed that DACA recipients would be eligible for deferred action and work permits.

On June 29, a group of 11 state attorney generals and governors (pdf) sent a letter to attorney general Jeff Sessions, threatening to file a lawsuit if the DACA program wasn’t rescinded by Sept. 5. Trump’s latest change of heart could very well be a response to the threat.

What happens next?

If Trump repeals DACA, Congress could step in. Lawmakers have already written several bills that would protect DACA recipients—assuming they could get enough Republican support (the DREAM act has bounced around Congress since 2001 without success).

One bill that could be considered is known as the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy, or BRIDGE, Act. It would grant immigrants for DACA a special status that allowed them to work, and would bar authorities from going after immigrants for deportation.

House representative Mike Coffman, a Republican from Colorado and one of the sponsors of BRIDGE, said he plans to force a vote on that bill when he returns to Congress next week.

There’s also the Recognizing America’s Children Act, or RAC, introduced by another Republican representative, Carlos Curbelo from Florida. Under RAC, certain Dreamers—those in school, with jobs, or serving in the military—would be given conditional legal status for five years with the option to apply for permanent status for five years after that. A similar proposal is being hammered by Republicans in the Senate, but it’s unclear whether either of would get enough GOP votes. So far, only 14 Republicans have signed on to BRIDGE, and 19 have signed up for RAC.

Then again, it may never come to a congressional showdown. Asked by reporters on Friday whether Dreamers should be worried, Trump said: “We love the DREAMERs. We love everybody…. We think the DREAMERs are terrific.”