Government & Politics

Trump moves to keep DACA, but future status of program uncertain

Immigrants in Kansas City who came to the U.S. illegally at a young age may have had a moment of relief Friday morning with news that President Donald Trump would not eliminate Barack Obama’s program that allowed them to stay in the country.

But frustration remained when it became clear the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was still in limbo.

Ingrid Perez-Esquivel said she and most of those she knows who are covered by the program are exhausted by its uncertainty.

“I think half of us are going through this hysteria: ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, where I’m going to go to — my whole life has been here,’ ” Perez-Esquivel said.

New memorandums issued by the administration Thursday night said those in the program would be allowed to remain in the country.

But White House officials said Friday morning that Trump had not made a decision about the long-term fate of the program. The president had promised to deport the immigrants or take their work permits away when he was campaigning.

The administrative program was created under former President Obama with the goal of protecting certain immigrants from deportation and providing them with work permits so they could find legal employment.

Perez-Esquivel, who emigrated from Mexico when she was less than 2 years old, said she sold tamales with her mother to help pay her tuition at Kansas State University. With scholarship money running out as a college junior, she was approved to work legally under DACA and earn her degree. She will be applying to extend her DACA status for the second time within the next month.

“I think that for a lot of us, we’re just exhausted. We’ve given you everything,” Perez-Esquivel said. “We’ve given you our energy, we’ve been good citizens, we’ve contributed to our communities. We’ve done everything that we’re supposed to, as good Samaritans, and yet that’s not good enough.”

Jonathan Hoffman, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, said there has been no final determination made about the program, “which the president has stressed needs to be handled with compassion and with heart.”

He added that John F. Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, “has noted that Congress is the only entity that can provide a long-term solution to this issue.”

A decision to maintain the program would be a reversal from Trump’s campaign rhetoric. At one campaign rally last summer, Trump vowed to “immediately terminate” the program, saying that Obama had “defied federal law and the Constitution.”

Since he took office, the president has hinted that he would not try to deport the DACA participants in response to repeated questions about the program. But immigration activists had remained worried that the administration might still eliminate the program.

The program covers about 800,000 people in the United States. Between 5,000 and 10,000 of those live in the Kansas City area, according to Jeffrey Bennett, a Kansas City immigration lawyer.

In 2015, Obama proposed an expansion of the program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, which could have shielded as many as 5 million people from deportation and provide them with work permits.

That program was never put in place because a Texas court blocked it at the request of a coalition of 26 state attorneys general. The Supreme Court deadlocked, 4-4, on a challenge to that ruling. However, the Trump administration’s decision to formally end the litigation coincided with the announcement that DACA would continue for the time being.

Kelly made the decision announced Thursday after consulting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions “because there is no credible path forward to litigate the currently enjoined policy,” according to a statement from the department.

Bennett said the decision to end litigation of the parents program left parents of DACA participants in the same situation they had been in: at risk of deportation if found by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or police.

Angela Ferguson, a Kansas City immigration lawyer, said the president’s decision regarding the parents program would not immediately impact her clients’ legal prospects.

“So far today, there’s no crisis,” Ferguson said Friday morning.

The New York Times and the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.