National News

Ex-Homeland Security Officials Urge Faster Action on DACA

Posted January 3, 2018 11:37 a.m. EST

Three former homeland security secretaries warned congressional leaders and officials of both parties Wednesday that the window for legislative action to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children will close by the middle of January, months before a period outlined by the White House.

The letter — signed by Jeh Johnson and Janet Napolitano, homeland security secretaries under President Barack Obama, and Michael Chertoff, a homeland security secretary under President George W. Bush — was sent as congressional leaders and aides to President Donald Trump prepare for a meeting Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is expected to be discussed.

In September, Trump ordered an end to the program, which shields young immigrants in the country illegally from deportation, and gave Congress six months to extend those protections, granted by Obama under an executive action in 2012. The policy permits beneficiaries of the program, known as Dreamers, to remain in the country without fear of immediate removal and gives them the right to work legally.

“We write not only in strong support of this legislation, but to stress that it should be enacted speedily, in order to meet the significant administrative requirements of implementation, as well as the need to provide certainty for employers and these young people,” the letter said. “For these reasons, the realistic deadline for successfully establishing a Dreamers program in time to prevent large-scale loss of work authorization and deportation protection is only weeks away, in the middle of January.”

They went on to warn that they knew of the number of changes that must be enforced to allow applications by immigrants who would apply to stay in the United States.

The six-month deadline set by Trump perpetuated a misconception that there was no urgency in finding a solution, the letter continued.

“Legislation is the only permanent way to prevent these Dreamers from losing work authorization and becoming subject to immediate deportation,” the letter said. “Establishing a program to effectively adjudicate a new immigration application system must be done responsibly.”

There needs to be proper time to train people to ensure that applications are properly reviewed, they wrote, saying that when DACA was established, it took nearly three months before the first applications were approved.

They estimated that Congress would need to pass a bill by Jan. 19 to guarantee enough time for the applications to be processed before the March 5 date that the Trump administration set as a grace period of sorts.

Any delay would have consequences not only for the immigrants covered by the program, but also for the businesses who employ them, the letter said.

It was up to Congress to determine whether to pass legislation that would extend those protections that would “allow them to continue contributing to the only nation they have known,” the former secretaries said.

“Not only is there no reason to delay, but establishing this new program in 45 days would be an incredible accomplishment done in record time,” the letter continued.

Aides to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate declined to comment.

The meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday is intended to focus on a deal to raise strict limits on military and domestic spending, but all parties expect DACA to come up.

Trump, pushed by his more anti-immigration advisers, kept a campaign pledge to rescind DACA, despite privately expressing misgivings to aides about doing so. Democratic congressional leaders, who were criticized by activists before the holiday recess for not getting legislation passed, have said they hope to reach a deal, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, has said if there is bipartisan agreement on such a deal, he will bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.

Publicly, the president has insisted on funding for his promised wall along the southern border with Mexico, as well as other security measures, as part of a deal. Some of Trump’s advisers say they anticipate him signing off on a deal, regardless of concerns among conservative members of congress and certain West Wing aides. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is said to favor a deal as well, although he is not expected to attend the meeting Wednesday.