Trump Plans To Announce Decision On Future Of DACA Program

Aug 31, 2017
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An Obama-era policy has shielded hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation. Now the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA for short, is under threat. The Trump administration is facing an ultimatum and a potential legal challenge over DACA's future. As NPR's Geoff Bennett reports from the White House, the president could announce his plans for the program any day now.

GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump pledged to, in his words, immediately terminate DACA. That's the program former President Obama began five years ago that protects immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. But once in the White House, Trump took a softer stance.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The DACA situation is a very, very - it's a very difficult thing for me.

BENNETT: That's the president speaking at a news conference back in February.

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TRUMP: You have some absolutely incredible kids - I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way - it's a very, very tough subject. We are going to deal with DACA with heart.

BENNETT: Since then, the Trump administration has left the program in place. But now a deadline is looming - September 5. That's the date attorneys general from Texas and nine other Republican-led states are giving the Trump administration to answer an ultimatum - end the DACA program or face a legal challenge. In an interview last month with Fox News, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton explained why he's targeting DACA.

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KEN PAXTON: This was created by President Obama in 2012. And it's something we think the administration needs to address because we believe it's clearly unconstitutional.

BENNETT: Unconstitutional, Paxton argues, because it's executive overreach. President Obama established the policy through executive action. Clarissa Martinez de Castro is with UnidosUS, a Latino advocacy group.

CLARISSA MARTINEZ DE CASTRO: This is actually a program that helps advance the rule of law by having people come forward and be on the books and working just like everybody else.

BENNETT: DACA allows some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children to get renewable two-year deferrals from deportation and work legally so long as they are enrolled in or graduated from high school or college and pass a background check, among other things. Twenty-nine-year-old Luis Angel Aguilar applied for DACA protections in 2013. Aguilar was born in Mexico.

LUIS ANGEL AGUILAR: My family crossed the border when I was about 10 or 11 years old in Arizona. I crossed with my mom and my siblings.

BENNETT: He says without the DACA policy, he fears he'd be an immediate target for deportation. I asked him why he hadn't applied for citizenship in the 19 years he's been here.

AGUILAR: It's - there's no way that I can get - I can just apply for citizenship. I think that's one misconception that often gets told, that I can just apply for citizenship.

BENNETT: Since he doesn't qualify for family-sponsored immigration or the program for high-skilled foreign workers, Aguilar says the way he sees it...

AGUILAR: That's why I'm not a citizen. There's no line per se for me to be able to get behind.

BENNETT: DACA, he says, is all he's got. It's not clear what Trump will do about the policy. Trump's staffers have been weighing the options available to the president. He could revoke the DACA participants' work permits outright or gradually phase out the program by refusing new applicants and letting the current permits expire. He could also do nothing at all and refuse to defend the program in court. And some White House officials have encouraged the president to pursue another path - striking a deal with Congress to enshrine DACA in law in exchange for funding his long-promised southern border wall. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today said the Trump administration is still reviewing DACA.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: It has not been finalized. And when it is, we will certainly let you know.

BENNETT: In the meantime, supporters of the DACA policy say they're bracing for what comes next. Geoff Bennett, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.