Trump Administration Rescinds Immigrant Protections But Preserves More Significant Ones

The largely symbolic order maintains protections for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly at his confirmation hearing.Office of the President-elect

The Department of Homeland Security has canceled an Obama administration program that would have blocked the deportation of undocumented parents of US citizens and legal residents. But the move was largely symbolic, since the program never actually went into effect—and in announcing its termination, DHS solidified the status of more significant protections for immigrants.

The canceled program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), was introduced in 2014 but never took effect due to ongoing legal battles. The DHS memorandum released Thursday stated that the administration would leave in place a similar program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which spares children brought into the country illegally from deportation. “The June 15, 2012 DACA memorandum, however, will remain in effect,” the DHS announcement stated.

Immigrant rights advocates quickly noted that Thursday was the fifth anniversary of DACA, which has protected 787,000 undocumented youths from deportation, according to the Associated Press. 

During the campaign, Trump pledged to rescind both DACA and DAPA. The DAPA cancellation could help reassure Trump’s base that the administration is still committed to aggressively targeting undocumented immigrants. But right-wing activists have attacked the Trump administration for not rescinding DACA. The criticism escalated last week after government data showed that DACA approvals have not slowed significantly under the Trump administration.

DAPA was blocked in 2015 in federal court and never went into effect. Last year, in a deadlocked 4-4 vote, the Supreme Court let the injunction stand.

Had it gone into effect, DAPA would have allowed undocumented parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents to work legally if they had been in the country since 2010 and had no criminal record. 

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s decision reverses a February 20 memorandum in which he allowed DAPA to remain in place—a switch that also highlights DACA’s precarious position. 

“Based on some of the wild, unpredictable things that [this administration has] done,” Jose Magaña-Salgado, managing policy attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told Mother Jones this week, “I would not be shocked if at some point in the future this administration does end DACA.”