Originally published by The New York Times
President Donald Trump is still trying to pressure Congress to pass immigration legislation by March 5. Thanks to the federal courts, the impact of his deadline is less threatening than it was originally, at least for now.
The Senate on Thursday rejected competing bills protecting “Dreamers,” a sign of how difficult it will be for lawmakers to pass legislation in this election year, let alone by March 5, that would protect the young immigrants from deportation.
A look at that date’s significance and what’s facing hundreds of thousands of Dreamers wondering what comes next:
In September, Trump said he was ending President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. He said Obama had exceeded his executive powers when he created DACA.
Yet Trump also gave lawmakers until March 5 to send him legislation renewing the program, which at last count gives 690,000 Dreamers the temporary ability to live and work in the U.S. Dreamers are younger immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children.
COURTS STEP IN
In recent weeks, federal judges in San Francisco and New York have made Trump’s deadline temporarily moot.
They’ve issued injunctions ordering the Trump administration to keep DACA in place while courts consider legal challenges to Trump’s termination of the program. The judicial process could take months.
The administration is fighting the judges’ rulings. Yet it has not tried to block the injunctions that force it to continue operating the program.
THE ADMINISTRATION’S MOVES
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said it is still accepting applications to renew DACA status for people whose two-year eligibility expires. That includes renewals for applicants whose permits expire after March 5.
But top administration officials have sent mixed messages about what will happen after March 5.
Trump has said he has the right to push the deadline later and might be willing to do that. But Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has described that as possibly unconstitutional.
White House chief of staff John Kelly has said Trump won’t extend the March 5 date. He’s also said the government won’t start deporting Dreamers who don’t have criminal records on that date, saying, “They are not a priority for deportation.”
And while Trump has offered legislation giving 1.8 million Dreamers a chance for citizenship, he’s attached strings most Democrats aren’t accepting. Those include an immediate $25 billion to build his proposed border wall with Mexico, reducing the relatives Dreamers could sponsor for citizenship and ending a lottery that distributes visas to people from countries with few U.S. immigrants.
The Senate decisively rejected that plan on Thursday.
SO FOR NOW …
Until the Supreme Court rules definitively on the case, Congress is feeling less pressure to act quickly. And Dreamers can continue renewing their status.
But there’s a catch. While the lower courts’ rulings allow recipients to reapply for DACA protections, those applications take months to adjudicate. During that time, applicants aren’t allowed to work and could be detained and put in deportation proceedings.
Thousands of DACA recipients have already lost protections and work authorization since Trump announced his decision September 5. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute has estimated an average of 915 people would lose DACA protections daily after March 5.
CONGRESS TO THE RESCUE?
That’s hard to imagine, since the Senate decisively rejected Trump’s and other bills Thursday protecting Dreamers and taking other immigration steps. House leaders still haven’t lined up enough support to pass their own legislation.
One possibility: A measure that would extend DACA for a year and give Trump a year’s worth of money for his wall. That might end up in a bill financing government agencies that Congress plans to consider by late March.