CHICAGO (AP) — The Trump administration said on Tuesday that it will reject new applications and shorten renewal periods for an Obama-era programme that shields young people from deportation, taking a defiant stance after the United States (US) Supreme Court refused to let it be scrapped completely.
The move, detailed in a memo from Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, ended a month of uncertainty about how the administration would respond to its Supreme Court defeat in an election year that has US President Donald Trump looking for ways to energise his base.
Wolf said the administration may try to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme again, casting it as a law enforcement issue that could contribute to illegal immigration. He said the federal government needs more time to consider next steps, presenting the measures as a temporary change.
“DACA makes clear that, for certain large classes of individuals, DHS will at least tolerate, if not affirmatively sanction, their ongoing violation of the immigration laws,” Wolf wrote in the memo.
About 650,000 people are part of DACA, which allows young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children to work and shields them from deportation. Roughly 66,000 people meet age requirements to apply, according to the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.
The government will deny all new applications, limit renewals to one year instead of two, and deny requests by DACA recipients to visit their home countries unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.
Recipients may seek permission to return home for family events, such as funerals or weddings, and other reasons, though the Trump administration has generally denied them.
The Supreme Court ruled last month that Trump failed to follow rule-making procedures when he tried to end the programme, but the justices kept a window open for him to try again.
The White House has been devising plans to make another push to end DACA, though it was not immediately clear whether he would make the politically sensitive move before November’s election. Democratic rival Joe Biden wants to keep DACA unconditionally.
A federal judge in Maryland ruled earlier this month that the programme should be restored to its original form, but the administration was mum until Tuesday on whether it would start accepting new applications. The White House anticipates legal challenges.
The administration’s month-long silence had unnerved many DACA recipients and those who wanted to join. US District Judge Paul Grimm of Maryland, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has given the administration until the end of tomorrow to update the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website and start adequately explaining why applications are rejected.
Legal experts were sceptical of the Trump administration’s authority to roll back parts of the programme.
“This is a move that is in defiance of the US Supreme Court ruling and a federal court ruling,” said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, an immigration law professor at Penn State Law in University Park, Pennsylvania. “It’s a lawless landscape that we are in.”
Immigrant rights advocates blasted the move as cruel.
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition accused the administration of further marginalising immigrants. The American Business Immigration Coalition called it economically harmful. And the American Civil Liberties Union vowed to continue its years long fight to prevent the programme’s demise.
A Programme Manager at The Resurrection Project in Chicago Laura Mendoza joined DACA in 2013 and will have to renew next year. She said the USD495 annual renewal fee would be difficult for many to pay.
“It’s infuriating that we continue to be the punching bag for the administration,” she said of fellow DACA recipients. “The administration is slowly dismantling the programme.”
Wolf, the Homeland Security Chief, acknowledged that the USD495 renewal fee will be a burden on DACA recipients who will have to apply annually instead of every other year, effectively doubling the cost. He said the department would consider lowering the fee.