Originally published by The New York Times
The whiplash in Washington over the past week, when government operations stopped and started again, was caused largely by negotiations over a single policy — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — which will determine the fate of a small, yet politically powerful group of young immigrants.
As lawmakers continue to furiously debate a resolution, we wanted to bring you up to speed on what is at stake, when it will matter and why. Here are the basics.
What is DACA?
The program was introduced in 2012 by President Barack Obama as a stopgap measure that would shield from deportation people who were brought into the United States as children. The status is renewable, lasting two years at a time, and has been issued to roughly 800,000 people.
Participation in the program comes with a range of benefits. Along with permission to remain in the country, recipients can also get work permits, through which many have obtained health insurance from their employers. The ability to work has also allowed them to pay for school, pursue higher education and, in some states, drive legally. The program also opened up access to in-state tuition and state-funded grants and loans in some states. And depending on where they live, recipients can also qualify for state-subsidized health care.
Who are the Dreamers?
DACA recipients are often referred to as Dreamers, after a similar piece of legislation called the Dream Act, which was introduced in 2001 and would have given its beneficiaries a path to American citizenship. They now fall between the ages of 16 and 35; the vast majority came from Mexico, though many others were born in Central and South America, Asia and the Caribbean.
Recipients must be enrolled in high school or already have a diploma or G.E.D. in order to qualify. Anyone with a serious criminal history (defined as a felony or serious misdemeanor conviction, or three misdemeanor convictions) is not eligible. Check out these charts that illustrate their demographics.
It came about after more than a decade of failed negotiations in Congress over how to deal with the Dreamers. The Dream Act never passed, but it gained widespread popularity among the American electorate and, at various points, both houses of Congress, hatching much of the political activism that is propelling the current debate.
Why was DACA eliminated?
President Trump ended the program in September after nine conservative state attorneys general with hard-line views on immigration threatened to sue him over the policy, arguing that it represented an overreach of presidential power. Mr. Trump had equivocated publicly over the program, and continues to today, but ultimately, he called on Congress to come up with a replacement within months. Read a breakdown by our White House correspondents of the political and legal pressures that led to Mr. Trump’s decision.
Are the Dreamers in danger of being deported?
Not just yet. Under the gradual drawdown of DACA, the first group of beneficiaries to lose their protection would do so in March. But another lawsuit, which we break down here, also stands in the way of any recipients being deported.
That case, brought by a group of immigrant advocates and Democratic local and state officials, alleges that the White House acted improperly and did not follow necessary legal procedures in eliminating DACA. A judge in California agreed, issuing a nationwide injunction earlier this month, which caused a stampede of recipients to apply to renew their statuses one last time.
The Trump administration plans to appeal the decision, and has also taken the rare step of asking the Supreme Court to rule on the appeal before the circuit court decision comes down. If the Supreme Court agrees, it could delay the potential deportations of beneficiaries even further because the injunction will remain in place until a decision is made.
What’s going on in Washington?
There are a handful of solutions being crafted in Congress right now, which range in scope. Many progressives, immigrant advocates and DACA recipients themselves are hoping for a “clean” Dream Act — that is, a law that would offer Dreamers a path to citizenship, and would not be tied to any other policies, immigration-related or not.
But the White House and many Republican lawmakers have said that they would not agree to such a policy without concessions from Democrats, which could come in the form of funding for a border wall or more enforcement officers, or a restructuring of the current visa distribution system to favor work skills over family ties. The other solutions that lawmakers are debating contain various combinations of these concessions, as well as other demands that are being made by Democrats.
We put together a timeline of events, related to immigration and spending, that led to the government shutdown.
What if there’s no deal?
If Congress does not come up with a solution and the injunction against the DACA phaseout is lifted by the courts, recipients will begin to lose protection as their two-year statuses expire and are no longer renewable, beginning in March. When that happens, they will be vulnerable to deportation right away. Even if they are not arrested immediately, they will lose a wide range of benefits. Read a breakdown of that here.