Photo: Ana Khan-Dorante, Ana Khan-Dorante For The Houston Chronicle
WASHINGTON – The dream goes on – for now.
Despite campaign pledges to the contrary, the Trump administration signaled Friday that it is keeping in place Obama-era protections for so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
But the news came in a Homeland Security memo announcing that the administration is revoking similar protections for certain undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. That Obama policy, known as DAPA, has been tied up in court since 2015 when a federal judge blocked it in response to a suit brought by Texas and 25 other states. It never went into effect.
The formal announcement actually came late Thursday, the same day that parties in the Texas suit challenging the program faced a court deadline in Brownsville to resolve the case. Instead, Homeland Security Department indicated on its web site that “there is no credible path forward” for the federal government in court.
Regarding Dreamers, the administration said it was not ready to end former President Barack Obama’s 2012 policy known as DACA, for Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals. A memorandum by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the DACA program “will remain in effect.”
The program has granted temporary work permits and reprieves from deportation to nearly 800,000 people living in the U.S. illegally. A fact sheet accompanying the policy said “no work permits will be terminated prior to their current expiration dates.”
(Story continues below … )
But administration officials and immigrant rights activists made clear that President Donald Trump has not made a final decision about the long-term fate of the program.
“It is unclear what will happen with DACA in the future,” said Ignacia Rodriguez, an immigration advocate for the National Immigration Law Center.
During his presidential campaign, Trump called both programs “illegal executive amnesties” that circumvented Congress. He vowed to end them immediately. But as president he has acknowledged that he would have trouble taking action against people who were brought into the country as children.
In April, White House press secretary Sean Spicer explained Trump’s reluctance by saying that he “has a heart.”
Nevertheless, immigrant rights activists said that Trump’s aggressive new deportation policies continue apace, including against people with no criminal records. Many also decried the decision to revoke DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents), saying it extinguishes the hopes of more than 4 million parents of American citizens and green card holders.
“Their situation is not ameliorated at all,” said Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents three undocumented women from the Rio Grande Valley in the DAPA case. “They lead quiet lives but they’re living in the shadows, taking care of their children, trying to get by as best they can with no relief on the horizon.”
Trump’s decision won praise from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led a coalition of 26 state attorneys general that sued the Obama administration in 2015 to block the order. Calling it “an unlawful edict,” Paxton said in a statement Friday that “Texas handed President Obama his biggest court defeat of all” after the U.S. Supreme Court halted DAPA’s implementation last June.
The high court justices deadlocked 4-4 on a challenge to the DAPA ruling in Texas, leaving the ruling in place from U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who said Obama had overstepped his authority.
The Trump administration announcement came on the fifth anniversary of former President Barack Obama’s order creating the DACA program. It also came exactly two years to the day after Trump opened his presidential campaign, making derogatory remarks about Mexican immigrants.
Taking aim at another Obama initiative, Trump was in Miami Friday to announce that he was rolling back much of the prior administration’s overtures to the Communist island nation of Cuba.
Both moves scored points with the conservative base that elected Trump, particularly the immigration initiative.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, posted on Twitter: “The restoration of our republican form of government advances. Next up, end lawless Dreamer amnesty for illegal alien children and adults.”
Immigration rights activists said that in the face of Trump’s campaign promises, Dreamers and their families still have cause to be worried, particularly as Trump ratchets up immigration enforcement and pursues a wall along the southwestern border.
“While the Trump administration has left the DACA program in place for now, their enforcement actions and policy decisions continue to create fear and anxiety in immigrant communities,” said U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “Their announcement to keep DACA, while revoking DAPA and deporting family members is deceitful and is another effort to keep immigrant families uncomfortable about their place in America.”
Others expressed hope, noting that if Trump wanted to summarily revoke the DACA program, there would be little to stop him except the political risk of offending Americans who are sympathetic to the plight of illegal immigrants.
“The only thing that is sure in Trump’s America is uncertainty,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Action speaks louder than words.”
With an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally, some 1.6 million of them in Texas, activists on both sides of the debate worry that the Dreamers could become the next front in a fierce political battle.
“It is a sad day when political powers still use Dreamers as pawns to continue to spread the narrative of the good immigrant versus the undesirables,” said Houston activist Cesar Espinosa, executive director of Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle. “We hope that we can continue to advocate for family unity, and eventually we reform our broken immigration system.”
Bobby Cervantes contributed to this story