President Donald Trump’s deadline for ending DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, arrived Monday. But the program, which protects young, undocumented immigrants from deportation, remains in place for now, despite Trump’s decision last year to rescind the program by March 5 unless Congress came up with a legislative solution.
Roughly 700,000 people who were brought to the United States illegally as children have received protection under DACA since 2012, when the program was created through executive action by then-President Barack Obama.
Here’s where things stand with DACA, and the hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers” whose protected status remains in limbo while the issue plays out in Congress and the courts.
- Why DACA didn’t end Monday. On Jan. 10, a federal judge in California ruled that the program could remain in place while legal challenges over DACA were resolved in court. U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s decision temporarily blocked Trump’s plan to rescind the program. One month later, on Feb. 13, a second federal judge issued a nationwide injunction blocking the Trump administration from ending DACA.
- How did the court rulings impact Dreamers? The second injunction, issued by Judge Nicholas Garaufis, a federal district court judge in New York, applied to current DACA recipients who were protected by the program before Sept. 5, when Trump announced he would rescind it. DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, must reapply for protected status every two years. Garaufis’ ruling allowed existing Dreamers to re-apply for a new two-year extension. But under the decision, the Trump administration does not have to accept new applications from people who were eligible for protection under the program but had not applied for DACA status before Sept. 5.
- What was the Trump administration’s response? The administration asked the Supreme Court to bypass the court of appeals and reconsider the lower court rulings. On Feb. 26, the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s request, meaning that the legal fight over DACA will first have to go before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in California, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which is based in New York.
- How does Congress fit into all this? Congress could have put the legal fight to rest by passing legislation on DACA by Trump’s March 5 deadline. That didn’t happen — though lawmakers tried. Democrats and Republicans introduced plans to protect Dreamers, but the debate quickly expanded to include other immigration policies, such as strengthening border security, and the bipartisan support for a DACA fix broke down. The Senate did debate the issue, and held votes on several proposals, but none of them — including a plan put forth by the White House — came close to the 60-vote threshold needed to pass legislation through the upper chamber. For his part, Trump has said he wants to deal with Dreamers “with heart,” and has said he wants to strike a deal on DACA. But he has rejected proposals that don’t include tougher border security measures, including funding for a border wall, and has blamed Democrats for Congress’ failure to reach an agreement.
- What’s next? Congress could still act. But the federal court rulings placing a temporary stay on Trump’s plan to end DACA removed the deadline for Congress to do something or else risk letting the program expire. Now, lawmakers have more time, while the legal battle winds its way through the courts. But without the pressure of a looming deadline, it may be harder for Congress to pass a DACA bill. The focus in Congress has also shifted from DACA to gun control, after the mass shooting at a Florida high school last month. For now, existing DACA recipients can apply for extensions while they wait for the legal process to play out. But their long-term future in the U.S. remains uncertain.