White House's DACA 'Wind Down' Gives Congress Time To Act On A Solution
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The administration formally announced an end to the DACA program this morning. Here's Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking just a few minutes ago at the Justice Department.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JEFF SESSIONS: I'm here today to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded.
KELLY: DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and it was put in place, as we heard there, by President Obama to protect young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers from deportation. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley is here with me now.
Hi, again, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Good to have you here. Tell us the details of what's been announced this morning.
HORSLEY: Well, the attorney general said that DACA, which was adopted by the Obama administration back in 2012, was an unlawful exercise of executive power. And so the Trump administration is changing course here. Now, he presented this as sort of a defense of congressional prerogatives. He said that the Obama administration had tried to do by fiat what they had been unable to persuade lawmakers to do.
But make no mistake, Jeff Sessions himself is a hard-liner on immigration. And in talking about this decision today, he also expressed support for a legislative proposal to cut back on legal immigration, and he raised the specter of illegal immigrants as contributing to crime, violence and terrorism.
KELLY: But the bottom line is the Trump administration is arguing DACA isn't legal; it wasn't legal in the first place; this was executive overreach.
HORSLEY: And they were under some pressure from conservative attorneys general from various states who were threatening to sue over this program. Those attorneys general had already successfully sued over a larger program that the Obama administration put in place in 2014. Actually, it was never formally implemented. They - it was in the works, and it was stopped by the courts - which would've granted relief from deportation to a much larger class of immigrants.
And so that - under that pressure, Jeff Sessions said, it was our collective wisdom that the DACA program also would've been subjected to a court striking it down. And rather than have a sort of disorderly dismantling of the program under court order, he recommended that the Homeland Security Department instead begin an orderly rollback the DACA program.
KELLY: OK, now, I want to get to the human impact in a second, but first - the politics. What happens next? This goes to Congress, and they're going to take up what should happen next with DACA.
HORSLEY: Yes, and we have certainly seen some support in the Republican-dominated House and Senate for putting in place some kind of congressional reprieve from deportation for these so-called DREAMers. House Speaker Paul Ryan has spoken favorably about the DREAMers as American in every way except on paper. We've seen Orrin Hatch in the Senate take the same stand. But remember, the last time Congress tried to pass a DREAM Act in the waning days of 2010 when the Democrats ran both the House and Senate, they were unable to do so.
KELLY: Didn't happen...
HORSLEY: So even so the DREAMers are a sympathetic group, Congress has not always managed to do that. In fact, one of the leading voices against passing the DREAM Act back in 2010 was then-Alabama-Senator Jeff Sessions.
KELLY: ...The same - the very same Jeff Sessions who made this announcement today at the Justice Department. OK, walk us through what happens. There are 800,000 people who currently are protected under DACA. What does this mean for him? Are they in limbo?
HORSLEY: There's not going to be an immediate knock at the door from some immigration officer saying, pack your bags, you're on the next bus south. There is a phase-out period. The folks who have work permits now, those will continue to be honored. And for those whose permits expire in the next six months or so, they'll even have a window to apply for a renewal. And then for those that expire in 2018 and - later in 2018 and on to 2019, they will just expire over time. At the point they do expire, they will become eligible for deportation, but immigration officials say they will still not be a high priority.
KELLY: And just quickly, should we read anything into the fact that this was rolled out at the Justice Department and not at the White House, when President Trump has sent mixed signals about how he feels in his heart about this?
HORSLEY: He really has. He took a hard line against the DREAMers during the campaign. But since he's been in the White House, he's talked about dealing with this group with more heart. So he left it to his attorney general to sort of drop the hammer today.
KELLY: OK, thank you.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
KELLY: NPR's Scott Horsley.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.