What is US Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme?

Immigrants and supporters demonstrate during a rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme in front of the Trump International Hotel, on Sept 5, 2017, in Washington DC.
Immigrants and supporters demonstrate during a rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme in front of the Trump International Hotel, on Sept 5, 2017, in Washington DC.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Trump administration on Tuesday (Sept 5) ordered the end of a programme that allowed illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country.

Those covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), known as "Dreamers", now have between six months and just over two years until they become illegal US residents and subject to potential deportation.

The move threatens the future of some 800,000 people, many now in schools, with jobs and families in the US.

What is the Daca or "Dreamers" programme?

In a presidential order in June 2012, then president Barack Obama launched Daca, a programme that aimed to provide a stable future for people who arrived in the country illegally as children and stayed. Dubbed "Dreamers", they were granted the right to remain and study or work legally on two-year, renewable permits.

The programme was devised after Congress failed to pass legislation to address the status of millions of illegal immigrants who had lived in the country for decades, many with families, permanent homes and businesses.

Daca applied to people who were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and had been continually present in the US since 2007. It covered anyone attending school or who had a graduate certificate, who was serving in the armed forces, and who had never been convicted of a serious crime.

 
 

Why Trump administration wants to end Daca?

President Donald Trump said Daca protected people who broke US laws, was unfair to legal immigrants and encroached on Congress' power to make immigration laws.

The government also argued that legal challenges by a number of states made Daca and a 2014 sister programme, Dapa, untenable.

Dapa, which stands for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, was a proposed Obama programme to open the way for other illegal immigrants, those who came as adults, to gain legal status, but was blocked from implementation by legal challenges.

Texas, which had led a coalition of 10 conservative states threatening court action against the federal government unless Daca was rescinded, said it was dropping a 2015 lawsuit that provided the basis for its legal challenge - with Attorney General Ken Paxton claiming "victory".

Faced with legal challenges, the Trump administration said it falls to Congress to fix the problem, not the executive branch.

But legal experts said Obama's Daca order was constitutionally sound and would survive court challenges. "The least disruptive alternative would have been to let the Daca programme continue," said Stephen Yale-Loehr of Cornell University.

What will happen to the Dreamers?

Encouraged by Obama's move, about 800,000 people registered under Daca, confident that they would be safe from expulsion. Now, the government has access to all their personal data, making it hard for most to hide.

About 200,000 of them will see their resident permits expire by the end of 2017. Another 275,000 expire in 2018, and the rest between January and August 2019.

Under Trump's order, those with permits are safe until their expiry. People with permits that expire within the next six months - before March 5, 2018 - can apply to renew them before Oct 5. But new applications will not be accepted.

Once their Daca permits expire, individuals will not have the legal right to work, and theoretically could be deported any time - though current policy only threatens illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes.

The White House has indicated that the six-month grace period gives Congress an opportunity to come up with legislation that could replace Daca and strengthen its legal foundations.

Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham announced that they would propose a bipartisan Dream Act to protect those previously covered by Daca.