US & World

White House to announce DACA decision Tuesday, leaving advocates and immigrants in limbo

Protesters carry signs in support of DACA at a rally in Downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 2017.
Protesters carry signs in support of DACA at a rally in Downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 2017.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Protesters carry signs in support of DACA at a rally in Downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 2017.
Hundreds of immigration advocates and supporters attend a rally and march to Trump Tower in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, on Wednesday in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Protesters carry signs in support of DACA at a rally in Downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 2017.
DACA recipient Erika Ramirez holds a sign showing what she accomplished by being allowed to stay in the U.S. at a rally in Downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 2017. She is a 31-year-old social worker who drove out from Hemet to attend the rally.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Protesters carry signs in support of DACA at a rally in Downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 2017.
Protesters attend rally for DACA in Downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 1, 2017. The rally was organized by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, known as CHIRLA, an immigrant advocacy organization.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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President Donald Trump will announce his decision about the fate of DACA, the Obama-era program to protect immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, on Tuesday, Sept. 5. 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the timeline during Friday's press briefing, the administration is in the process of finalizing the decision.

The president "loves people and wants to make sure that decision is done correctly," Sanders said. 

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump pledged to "immediately terminate" DACA, but once in the White House, Trump took a softer stance.

"The DACA situation is a very, very — it's a very difficult thing for me," he said during a February 2017 news conference. He added, "You have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly — they were brought here in such a way. It's a very — It's a very, very tough subject. We're going to deal with DACA with heart."

Three months later, Trump told the Associated Press, "The DREAMers should rest easy." The term DREAMers is often used to refer to DACA participants.

Since then, the Trump administration has left the program in place. But now the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is under threat with the administration facing a potential legal challenge over its future. Supporters fear the policy that has shielded hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation could soon be phased out.

"We hear that the president is conflicted about it, and we hope that that is because there is a clear understanding that rescinding DACA is morally bankrupt because it would destroy the lives of youth who know no other country but this one as their own," said Clarissa Martínez de Castro, deputy vice president of the Latino advocacy group UnidosUS.

DACA deadline looming

Now a deadline is looming: Sept. 5. That is the date attorneys general from Texas and nine other Republican-led states are giving the Trump administration to answer an ultimatum: End the DACA program or face a legal challenge.

"Because it's temporary, because it was based on an executive action taken by President Obama, it's very vulnerable to a change," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America's Voice.

DACA critics argue the policy represents executive overreach and, as a result, is unconstitutional.

Supporter: DACA 'helps advance the rule of law'

"This is actually a program that helps advance the rule of law by having people come forward and be on the books and working just like everybody else," said de Castro.

DACA allows some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children to get renewable, two-year deferrals from deportation and work legally, so long as they are enrolled in or graduated from high school or college and pass a background check, among other things.

Luis Angel Aguilar, 29, applied for DACA protections in 2013. Aguilar was born in Mexico.

"My family crossed the border when I was about 10 or 11 years old in Arizona," he said. "I crossed with my mom and my siblings." Aguilar's father had previously immigrated illegally and was deported roughly four years later.

Aguilar says that without the DACA policy, he fears he would be an immediate target for deportation because he doesn't qualify for family-sponsored immigration or the program for high-skilled foreign workers.

"I think that's one misconception that often gets told — that I can just apply for citizenship," he said. "There's no line, per se, for me to be able to get behind."

Aguilar now lives in Virginia and works for an immigrant rights group.

Considering the options

Trump staffers have been weighing the options available to the president, but it's not clear what Trump will do.

He could revoke the DACA participants' work permits outright or gradually phase out the program by refusing new applicants and letting the current permits expire.

He could also choose to do nothing and refuse to defend the program in court.

Some White House officials have encouraged the president pursue another path: Strike a deal with Congress to enshrine DACA in law in exchange for funding for his long-promised southern border wall.

But Democrats and immigration advocates say that option seems less viable.

"Nobody wants to protect DREAMers at the expense of other groups of immigrants," said Sharry. "Honestly, I think I think the real call is for President Trump to maintain DACA as is until Congress can act and enact a permanent solution."

In an interview with Wisconsin talk radio WCLO on Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says that he opposes the Trump administration ending DACA and that it is up to Congress to find a legislative fix to the question of what to do with the children brought to the United States illegally by their parents. The speaker said that Obama was wrong to act without Congress and that Trump should defer to Congress to fix the issue.

"Having said all of that there are people who are in limbo. These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don't know another home," Ryan said. "And so I really do believe there needs to be a legislative solution, that's one that we're working on, and I think we want to give people peace of mind."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday told reporters that the Trump administration is still reviewing DACA.

"It has not been finalized, and when it is, we will certainly let you know," she said.

In the meantime, supporters of the DACA policy say they're bracing for what comes next.

In Los Angeles Friday morning, DACA recipients and supporters rallied by the federal building downtown. Among them was Erika Ramirez, 31. She carried with her a sign listing her accomplishments since she was approved for DACA four years ago: A bachelor’s degree in social work, a job as a child welfare social worker, a secure future for her two young children. The sign read, “I accomplished the American Dream.”

Ramirez, who drove out from Hemet to the rally, said that without DACA, her family’s future is in jeopardy. Her husband does not qualify for DACA and does not have legal status. She has approached her employer in the hopes there will be a way to sponsor her so she can stay in the U.S. and work legally if DACA is killed.

“This is important not only because it’s my future, it’s my kids,” said Ramirez, fighting back tears as she spoke. “If I have DACA, it will be better for them, to provide a better education, to pay their health insurance. It’s everything, pretty much.”

Ramirez, who arrived with her family from Mexico at age 14, talked about waiting tables in the days before DACA, working two jobs at times to pay for college. She said being employed legally as a social worker “has changed my life,” and that she does not want to go back to how things were before.

Ivan Ceja, 25, was among the first wave of DACA recipients in 2012. He’s self-employed now, the co-founder of a social media nonprofit. Being self-employed means he could keep working legally if DACA goes away. But there would be other uncertainties.

“My biggest worry is that I’ll have to go back to having to look over my shoulder every now and then, to make sure law enforcement isn’t following me,” said Ceja, who lives in Compton, “or that a broken taillight, like in some cases, doesn’t lead to a deportation.”

Ceja said he was worried for younger DACA recipients – those who obtained it as teenagers and know little else, he said. In social media forums, Ceja has seen young people post despondent messages, or say they can’t sleep because they’re so worried.

Jose Gil, 29, said he felt helpless when it sank in at age 18 that he had no legal status.

Gil, who lives in Van Nuys, said when he found out he was undocumented, "it just took everything away from me. I fell into a hole.”

Being able to obtain a work permit and protection through DACA “just sparked my life anew,” he said.

Today Gil works full-time legally as a security guard, and attends community college in hopes of working in engineering someday. He said if DACA is rescinded, he’ll have to go back to working under the table – but he won’t return to Mexico. He left at age three.

Gil is optimistic, though. He finds it hard to believe the president could decide to scrap the DACA program.

 “I don’t think Donald Trump is really going to take all of that away from us,” Gil said. “Because he sees us. He knows us…and he knows that we are contributing in every last aspect.”

Just what the president will decide will become clear shortly.

This story has been updated. NPR's Susan Davis and KPCC’s Leslie Berestein Rojas contributed to this report.