As Congress races to avert another federal government shutdown this week, the fate of an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA for short — hangs in the balance.
Last year, the Trump administration announced it was phasing out DACA, which temporarily shields from deportation young immigrants who were brought here as children. He gave Congress a March 5 deadline to act. The matter is now tied up in federal courts.
Here are five things you should know about DACA:
Why was DACA started in the first place, and is it legal?
The Obama administration created DACA in 2012 after Congress failed to approve bipartisan proposals to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. Among those failed measures was the Dream Act, which would have given immigrants a path to legal status if they came here as children, graduated from high school and attended college or served in the military.
In announcing his decision to phase out DACA, President Donald Trump accused President Barack Obama of making an “end run” around Congress when he created DACA, “violating the core tenets that sustain our republic.” Obama has countered that his action was based on a well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, used by both Republican and Democratic presidents.
Who is eligible for DACA and what does it provide?
Applicants must have come to the U.S. before turning 16. They must have been under 31 as of June 15, 2012. They are required to be in school, have graduated from high school or possess an honorable discharge from the U.S. military. And they cannot have any felony convictions. Applicants must have their fingerprints taken, submit to background checks and provide numerous records.
DACA provides renewable two-year deportation deferrals and work permits. DACA status also makes immigrants eligible for Georgia driver’s licenses.
How many people are in the program and who are they?
In Georgia, the total has been as high as 21,600. Of those, 15,700 resided in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell area, and 1,500 lived in Gainesville. Nationwide, there have been as many as 689,800.
Nearly 80 percent of all DACA recipients came from Mexico. Most are female. The average age is just under 24. And most are single, though about 15 percent are married. Among the nation’s DACA recipients are U.S. troops, public school teachers and even a Catholic priest based in Atlanta.
RELATED: Report: 15,700 DACA recipients in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell area
IN-DEPTH: Catholic priest in Atlanta may be only such DACA recipient in America
What will happen to them if nothing is done to extend their protections after March 5?
Last month, a federal judge in San Diego issued an order temporarily blocking the government from ending DACA. So U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced last month that it would resume receiving DACA applications, including requests for renewals of permits that are set to expire after March 5. The Trump administration is appealing the judge’s decision and asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.
Meanwhile, White House chief of staff John Kelly said this week that Trump was unlikely to extend the March 5 deadline. The Trump administration has said it is focused on arresting and deporting convicted criminals and others who pose public safety threats. But acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tom Homan recently told National Public Radio that ICE officers would arrest immigrants who have lost their DACA status if they are encounter them while targeting criminals.
IN-DEPTH: On the road with ICE in Georgia amid Trump’s crackdown
What does Trump want in exchange for protecting DACA recipients, and how likely is it he will get what he wants?
Trump has proposed creating a 10- to 12-year pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants, which could include current DACA recipients and those who are eligible for it but never applied. But he also wants $25 billion for a new southwest border wall and additional security measures. He has proposed limiting family-based immigration sponsorships to spouses and minor children, blocking immigrants from sponsoring their parents, older children and siblings. Trump also wants to end the nation’s diversity lottery program, which is designed to diversify America.
RELATED: Visa lottery draws scrutiny in Georgia following N.Y. terror attack
Though they have shown a willingness to discuss border security, many congressional Democrats oppose mixing the fate of DACA recipients with Trump’s proposals for restricting the nation’s legal immigration channels. Republicans in Congress are sharply split on these issues. Meanwhile, Trump said this week that he would “love to see a shutdown” if he doesn’t get what he wants on immigration.
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