President Donald Trump’s administration has issued its most explicit promise to date that so-called Dreamers can keep their permission to work legally in the U.S.
"No work permits will be terminated prior to their current expiration dates," the Department of Homeland Security said in guidance posted on its website Thursday night.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has said recently that the administration is not seeking to deport those who received quasi-legal status under a policy President Barack Obama adopted in 2012.
However, the new statement from DHS seems to be a forward-looking promise not to take action against those in the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, an initiative for undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children.
The new guidance from DHS came as the Trump administration faced a court deadline Thursday in a still-pending lawsuit that halted Obama’s 2014 effort to expand DACA and add similar status for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders through a program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA.
A federal judge in Texas blocked Obama’s 2014 moves. The issue went to the Supreme Court, which deadlocked last year, 4-4. The outcome left the preliminary injunction in place, but left open the possibility of further litigation in the district court.
The Trump administration announced Thursday night it has formally rescinded the 2014 actions creating DAPA and expanding DACA to cover a broader range of people.
Trump authorized the revocation Wednesday, according to a White House official.
"POTUS decided to authorize DHS to rescind yesterday during an early evening meeting in the Oval Office," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said it was abandoning the 2014 moves "because there is no credible path forward to litigate the currently enjoined policy."
It has always seemed unlikely that the Trump administration would fight to defend Obama’s policy, which had been on ice since early 2015.
However, acquiescing in the litigation brought by Texas and 25 other states would put the Justice Department in an awkward position legally.
For example, the Justice Department is arguing in litigation over Trump’s travel ban executive order that it is improper for the courts to issue nationwide or global injunctions blocking that policy. Consenting to a permanent, nationwide injunction in the Texas case could undercut that argument.
On Thursday night, the Justice Department again punted on those complex issues, asking U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen to postpone proceedings in the case for another two weeks.
"Secretary Kelly’s June 15, 2017, memorandum has a direct bearing on the proceedings in this case. A stay will promote judicial efficiency by allowing the parties to further confer in light of the memorandum issued earlier today," Justice Department lawyers wrote.
During a confirmation hearing last month, Trump’s nominee to run U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services seemed to indicate that the original DACA program would not be disturbed, despite Trump’s repeated claims as a candidate that it was illegal and his numerous vows to shut it down.
"I’m aware that both the president and Secretary Kelly have stated publicly and reiterated that the DACA program is to remain in place," the nominee, Francis Cissna, said. "If confirmed, I would see my role to administer that program well, as it stands."
Cissna was approved, 17-2, by the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.
One prominent Democrat said he’d extracted a promise not to alter the current protections for so-called Dreamers.
"I’m grateful that President Trump has decided to keep the DACA program in place," Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said on the Senate floor Thursday. "Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Nominee Francis Cissna have promised me personally and publicly that they will maintain the existing guidelines for the DACA program. I appreciate the commitment and intend to hold them to it.”
Since Trump took office, renewal of expiring DACA permits appears to have continued as normal. More than 17,000 new approvals took place between January and March and more than 107,000 existing DACA recipients had their work permits renewed for an additional two years.
Some immigrant rights advocates welcomed the administration’s announcement.
"I…think it shows the strength of the Dreamer movement," said immigration attorney David Leopold "Dreamers can breathe a little easier tonight. It also means the DAPA and DACA+ case will be out of Judge Hanen’s hands soon and that’s a good thing."
Seung Min Kim and Ted Hesson contributed to this report.