Last month, the 650,000 undocumented Americans in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program rejoiced when the Supreme Court kicked down the Trump administration’s 2017 attempt to rescind the policy which creates a path to citizenship for eligible young people brought into the country without documentation as minors. Potential Dreamers, as DACA recipients are known, got more good news on July 17 when a federal court in Maryland ordered the administration to begin accepting new applicants to the program, effectively restoring it to its status before Trump’s attempted rollback began almost three years ago.
But on Tuesday, the Trump administration defied U.S. District Court Judge Paul Grimm’s order when Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf announced that DHS would not process new applications as the agency engages in a “comprehensive review” of the program. “I have concluded that the DACA policy, at a minimum, presents serious policy concerns that may warrant its full rescission,” Wolf wrote in a memo, despite an opposing conclusion from a federal judge. According to the memo, the administration will renew DACA recipients’ protections for only 12 months, instead of the two years written into the policy.
According to an administration official that spoke to NPR, DHS justified a memo which directly defies a federal court order by claiming that it is an “intervening action” which makes the Maryland judge’s decision void. In the interim period between the Supreme Court ruling and Grimm’s order in Maryland, DHS was not processing new applications. Expressing his concern last Friday in a call with Department of Justice attorneys, Grimm said he had “a feeling and a belief that the agency is disregarding binding decisions,” an anxiety that proved prescient.
The Supreme Court’s decision on DACA — addressing not the merits of the program, but the failures of procedure in Trump’s attempt to revoke it — was expected to result in an attempt to try to halt the policy again. (As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern notes, a similar phenomenon occurred after SCOTUS blocked an attempt to put a citizenship question on the census, leading to a scrambled, but flawed attempt to do it anyway.) Now, immigration advocates worry that the president is stalling until after the election to find a way to properly do away with Dreamers. “Trump’s announcement today lays the groundwork to kill the DACA program and confirms what we have long said: DACA is on the ballot in November,” Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles, told NPR.