By the Associated Press
WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump continues to warn of a looming March 5 deadline on immigration.
“We have a great chance to make a deal or, blame the Dems!” he added late. “March 5th is coming up fast.”
Thanks to a recent court ruling, the March 5th deadline is practically — if not politically — all but moot.
The deadline dates back to September 5th, when Trump announced that he was ending the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provided protection from deportation and work permits for about 800,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. as children and are now living here illegally.
To lessen the blow, the administration announced that recipients whose status was set to expire before March 5 would be allowed to apply for renewals, so long as their applications were received within a month. Trump framed that as giving Congress six months to come up with a legislative fix.
But that timeline became far less significant when a federal court judge in San Francisco blocked Trump’s action on the grounds that young immigrants would suffer “irreparable harm.”
In response, US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it was once again accepting DACA renewals, processing them just as they had before Trump’s September announcement — including renewals for applicants whose permits expire after March 5.
Asked whether that would change on March 5, USCIS said they could not speculate on any “potential outcomes,” but that the agency “will comply with the federal court order and will accept requests to renew a grant of deferred action under DACA.”
“Until further notice,” they added, “the DACA policy will be operated on the terms in place before it was rescinded on Sept. 5, 2017.”
Pressed on what then would change on March 5, a White House official said the administration was confident the courts would act ahead of that date. In the meantime, Trump has pressured Democrats in Congress to support an immigration proposal they say is a non-starter.
The Supreme Court will meet in private on Feb. 16 and on the agenda is the administration’s bid to have the San Francisco judge’s order reviewed before the end of the term in June.
It’s a longshot strategy, but even if that succeeds, the judge’s order to accept DACA renewals will remain in effect at least until the Supreme Court rules definitively.
The administration has chosen not to seek a stay of the order from the Supreme Court, meaning the administration has not asked the justices to block the California judge’s order as it waits.
Unless there’s a legislative resolution, it’s unclear how the fight might be resolved by March 5, barring a surprise move by Trump.
In the meantime, thousands of DACA recipients have already lost protections and work authorization since Trump announced his decision on September 5.
While the court ruling allows recipients to reapply for deferred actions, those applications take months to adjudicate — months when applicants aren’t allowed to work and could be detained and put in deportation proceedings.
Before the judge’s ruling, the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute had estimated an average of 915 people would lose DACA protections every day after March 5.
Adding to the uncertainly: Mixed messages from the administration.
Trump has repeated suggestions that he might be willing to push back his deadline, telling reporters recently, saying he has the right to do that if he wants.
But Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has described that as possibly “unconstitutional” — the same argument made repeatedly by the Justice Department and by administration attorneys defending Trump’s action in court.
“If Trump extends DACA, he’d be undermining the reason he gave for rescinding it,” said Leon Fresco, former top immigration aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is now Senate minority leader. Fresco said administration lawyers would even be at risk of jail time if Trump took an action that those same attorneys have argued is illegal.
For now, the immigration debate on the Hill appears to be at a standstill, with all sides digging in, and warning of an impending deadline that may come and go with little impact.
Democrats will likely spend the next month arguing that a failure to act leaves DACA recipients vulnerable and scared, while Trump will continue to blame Democrats for failing to come to the table.
But without a looming deadline, it seems doubtful there would be the same urgency to get something done.