PHOENIX (AP) — The program that protects young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or came with families who overstayed visas has been rescinded. But many questions remain about what will happen to the program’s beneficiaries.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the program, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, will end in six months to give Congress time to find a legislative solution for the immigrants.
Here’s a look at the program and what happens next for the nearly 800,000 people in it who are allowed to work in the U.S. and receive protection from deportation.
What is DACA?
DACA was created by President Barack Obama in 2012 after intense pressure from immigrant advocates who wanted protections for the young immigrants who were mostly raised in the U.S. but lacked legal status.
The program protects them from deportation — granting a two-year reprieve that can be extended and by issuing a work permit and a Social Security number.
DACA recipients must meet several requirements, including having no criminal record. Immigrants who are accepted into the program and later get arrested face deportation to their home country.
They also must have been 30 or younger when the program was launched and brought to the U.S. before age 16.
The application cost is nearly $500, and permits must be renewed every two years. The application and renewal process take several weeks, and many immigrants hire lawyers to help navigate the process.
DACA does not give beneficiaries legal U.S. residency; they are simply given a reprieve from deportation while being allowed to legally work.
The overwhelming majority of DACA recipients are from Mexico. One in four of them live in California.
Frustration grew during the Obama administration over repeated failures to pass the “Dream Act,” which would have provided a path to legal U.S. citizenship for young immigrants brought to the country as children.
The last major attempt to pass the legislation was in 2011.
Immigrant activists staged protests and participated in civil disobedience in an effort to push Obama to act after Congress did not pass legislation. DACA is different than the Dream Act because it does not provide a pathway to legal residency or citizenship. Still, DACA recipients are often referred to as “Dreamers” — a reference to the earlier proposals that failed in Congress before Obama’s action.
Why end DACA?
President Donald Trump was under pressure from several states that threatened to sue his administration if it did not end DACA. And he declared on the campaign trail that the program was an “illegal” executive amnesty.
White House officials argue the order Obama issued creating the program was unconstitutional and that Congress should take charge of legislation dealing the issue. They say the program was on shaky legal ground and would not have survived legal challenges in the courts.
Immigrant advocates, clergy and business leaders including the chief executives of Apple and Microsoft put intense pressure on Trump to maintain the program. But he decided to end it.
What happens now?
Young immigrants already enrolled in DACA remain covered until their permits expire.
If their permits expire before March, 5, 2018, they are eligible to renew them for another two years as long as they apply by Oct. 5.
If their permits expire beyond that March date, they will not be able to renew and could be subject to deportation when their permits expire.
People who miss the October deadline will be disqualified from renewing their permission to remain in the country and could face deportation, although the Trump administration has said it will not actively provide their information to immigration authorities.
And it will be up to Congress to take up and pass legislation helping DACA beneficiaries. One bill introduced this year would provide a path to legal permanent residency.
Many DACA beneficiaries say they worry they will be forced to take lower-wage, under-the-table jobs and will be unable to pay for college or help their families financially.