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DACA deadline for US immigrants arrives with less urgency

Posted March 5, 2018 6:41 p.m. EST
Updated March 5, 2018 8:10 p.m. EST

— A program that temporarily shields hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation was scheduled to end Monday, but court orders have forced the Trump administration to keep issuing renewals. That removed some of the urgency of a hard deadline, but advocates weren't letting up in their efforts to get permanent protection.

In September, Trump said he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program but gave Congress six months to develop a legislative fix. Those whose permits expired by March 5 had one month to apply for renewal.

A nationwide injunction in January by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco required the administration to resume renewals but does not apply to first-time applicants.

Here is where DACA stands on the day it was originally set to expire:

WHAT IS DACA?

President Barack Obama introduced DACA in June 2012 by executive action, giving hundreds of thousands of people who came to the country illegally as children two-year, renewable permits to live and work. To qualify, they needed to have arrived before their 16th birthday, been under 31 in June 2012, completed high school or served in the military, and have clean criminal records.

Nearly 683,000 people were enrolled at the end of January, eight out of every 10 from Mexico. About 25,000 people in North Carolina are enrolled in DACA, including Jorge Ramos, who was 6 years old when his parents crossed the border from Juarez, Mexico, to find a better, safer life in the U.S. for him and his sister.

"We lived in a very dangerous area at the time, so they didn't really come here by choice," Ramos said. "It was really more out of survival. They didn't really have much options."

DID MONDAY MEAN ANYTHING?

Courts have removed much of the urgency, but DACA recipients whose applications are pending are at risk until their petitions are granted.

Former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, now Trump's chief of staff, last year scrapped the Obama administration's policy of limiting deportations to people who pose a public safety threat, convicted criminals and those who have crossed the border recently, effectively making anyone in the country illegally vulnerable. Deportation arrests have surged more than 40 percent under Trump.

There were nearly 14,000 people with expired permits who applied for renewals but had not received them at the end of January. There were also nearly 22,000 whose initial applications had yet to be decided.

Ramos, who graduated from high school in 2015 and now attends Wake Technical Community College, said DACA has made it possible for him to drive legally and hold a job with advocacy group El Pueblo. For six months now, he's been expecting his life as he knows it to end any day as DACA ends.

"Having a driver's license when you need it to drive or having a Social Security number to have a job, if I can't get that and have no way of obtaining that, then I'm effectively made into a criminal," he said.

WHAT ARE THE ADVOCATES DOING?

DACA advocates have been using Monday's deadline to intensify pressure on the White House and Congress for permanent protection. The ACLU said Sunday that it launched "multiple six-figure advertising buys" with United We Dream and MoveOn.org, focusing on Trump.

On Monday itself, activists and DACA recipients held rallies and marches around the country. In Washington, D.C., supporters took to the streets around Capitol Hill, with signs saying "Build Bridges, Not Walls" and "No Person Is Illegal." Demonstrators block intersections in acts of civil disobedience.

Advocacy groups have planned a rally at noon Tuesday outside U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis' office in Raleigh to call on Congress to pass a bill giving DACA recipients permanent protection and a path to full citizenship and not use them as leverage to pass other cuts to immigration programs.

WHERE DO THE COURTS STAND ON DACA?

Alsup ruled Jan. 9 that the administration failed to justify ending the program and that the plaintiffs — the states of California, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota as well as the University of California — had a good chance of winning at trial. His nationwide injunction required the administration to resume accepting renewal requests within a week.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis in New York later issued a similar ruling.

On Feb. 26, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the administration's unusual request to intervene, which would have leapfrogged the appeals court.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals put its review of Alsup's decision on fast track, but legal experts do not expect a decision until June at the earliest. From there, it is expected to go to the Supreme Court, likely keeping DACA alive through November midterm elections.

WHERE DOES CONGRESS STAND ON DACA?

In January, the president proposed a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants as part of an immigration package that included $25 billion for a wall and other border enforcement measures and sharp cuts to legal immigration. The Senate rejected it.

Immigrant advocates and their allies in Congress want a narrower bill that would protect DACA recipients, possibly combined with limited border enforcement measures, but the administration has balked. Trump has repeatedly blamed Democrats for the impasse, while Democrats say he created it by ending DACA.

Congress must pass a spending bill by March 23 to keep the government running, giving Democrats a chance to condition support on a DACA bill. Democrats forced a partial shutdown in January with that goal in mind but relented after three days.

Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a Cornell University law professor, says the Supreme Court's refusal to intervene "throws the DACA program back into Congress' lap."

Ramos said he has been doing everything he can to push Congress to come to a deal on a permanent solution to his status. He said he was hopeful Trump's imposed deadline might help, but months of political infighting on Capitol Hill have yielded nothing other than a potential extension of the program while legal challenges work their way through the courts.

"It's so frustrating. I'm like on a whole other plane of existence almost – wanting to accept this, wanting to be OK and also being in complete crisis mode," he said. "I don't want to break down."