The Trump administration announced it won’t shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA that grants work permits and temporary protection from deportation to young unauthorized immigrants who arrived as children.
Close to 800,000 young people have obtained short-term residency and permission to work since the Obama administration began the program nearly five years ago.
Among them is Los Angeles resident Jungwoo Kim, 32, who recently signed up for DACA for the third time. He did so warily: he has been worried since the November election that the Trump administration would scrap the program.
“It’s a sort of relief, for now," he said on Friday.
The Trump administration issued memos the day before that it was keeping DACA but rescinding two other Obama-era actions. One known as DAPA, for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, would have extended temporary protection to the parents of the young immigrants and permanent residents. Also rescinded was a related plan to expand DACA to older adults who came as children.
The programs covering parents and older adults never took effect because of challenges in court. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in a case challenging President Obama's immigration plans, freezing the program for parents and older adults.
The DACA program that survives applies only to young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, and who were under 31 as of June 15, 2012.
But Trump administration officials have made clear that there is no long-term-commitment to keep the program alive, and the future of DACA remains uncertain.
Critics of the program hope it will eventually be eliminated altogether.
“I think it will die a lingering death in the courts," said John Miano with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank that supports restricted immigration.
Miano, who questions the legality of DACA, said in an email that he guesses the administration may remain hands-off with DACA but will not defend it in court. "That way, the president can avoid being the bad guy," he said.
During the campaign, Trump vowed to roll back Obama executive orders, but after the election, he expressed sympathy for DACA recipients know as Dreamers.
Experts say there is nothing barring new applicants from applying for DACA. But immigrant service providers are cautioning applicants to think it through carefully.
“Young people should apply who are eligible to apply," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. But it's a tough choice, she said.
"Do I stay undocumented in the shadows, or do I provide all my information to this administration...even with the knowledge that in the future, that information can be used against us if this program is suddenly rescinded?" she asked.
Kim, who came from South Korea at 15 and overstayed a temporary visa, said he thought it over when he renewed recently. He decided he'd rather not go back into hiding.
"They already have my information, right? So I might as well [renew]," he said. "If they are going to come after us, they are going to come after us anyway. So just renew it, you know?"
At least now, he said, he feels a littler safer than he did before.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated Jungwoo Kim had signed up twice for DACA. Instead, he recently signed up for the third time. KPCC regrets the error.