When U.S. President Donald Trump rescinded a program shielding 800,000 undocumented young people from deportation on Tuesday, he threw their futures into doubt and set off a political firestorm. Now, the coming months will determine whether the so-called "DREAMers" – people who arrived in the United States illegally as children – are pushed back into the shadows or recognized as future citizens. (The term is a reference to the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation aimed at resolving their plight which was never enacted.)
What's next for the DREAMers?
Under the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, undocumented young people were granted a renewable two-year status that allowed them to work and avoid deportation. As of now, no new DACA applications will be granted. As of next month, no more renewals will be processed. The real blow comes in March: That's when existing recipients will start to see their DACA status expire. About 1,000 people will lose their status each day, placing them at risk of deportation and ending their ability to work legally.
If Congress does not act swiftly to pass a legislative fix, the next six months will be filled with uncertainty for these undocumented young people. Their number includes students, entrepreneurs and even soldiers (several hundred DACA recipients have enlisted in the U.S. Army or are already on active duty). Depending on where they live, the end of their status could mean losing their driver's licences, their jobs, their employer-provided health insurance and their eligibility for discounted university tuition. And, like many of their parents, they will live each day with the fear of being detained and deported.
DACA recipients also worry that the personal information they provided to U.S. authorities could be used against them – although the government has said it will not share those details with immigration-enforcement agents. Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston, said two clients who are DACA recipients called her on Tuesday and expressed their fear that immigration authorities would come to their homes. "They said, 'I never should have applied, I'm putting everyone in my family at risk,'" Ms. Yegani said.
What does Mr. Trump want to happen?
Mr. Trump has displayed contradictory impulses. On Tuesday, he released a statement saying that ending DACA was crucial to maintaining the rule of law and that it was now up to Congress to act. In the afternoon, he reiterated his "great love" for DACA recipients. And in the evening, he wrote on Twitter that if Congress fails to "legalize DACA," then "I will revisit this issue."
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump told reporters on Air Force One that there had been no mixed signals. "Congress, I really believe, wants to take care of this situation," he said. "If they don't, we're going to see what we're going to do."
What will Congress do now?
Mr. Trump's decision to end DACA raises the pressure on lawmakers to find a permanent fix for the Dreamers, something they have previously tried – and failed – to do. Democrats and a few Republicans are pushing for swift action and calling on Congress to pass the latest version of the DREAM Act, which would allow DACA recipients to become permanent residents and eventually U.S. citizens. The DREAM Act enjoys some bipartisan support in the Senate but faces an uphill battle in the House of Representatives.
Republican leaders such as Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, want to move more deliberately and resist the idea of a "clean" bill – in other words, legislation that focuses only on the "Dreamers" and doesn't include other areas of immigration policy. Instead, they want legislation that addresses the situation of DACA recipients in exchange for action on other policy priorities, such as funding the border wall, increased immigration enforcement or even a reduction in legal immigration.
"If other immigration reforms are added on to this, then it will fail," said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration-policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington. "You will lose many more votes than you gain."
How have businesses and universities reacted?
Dramatically. A recent survey found that 97 per cent of DACA recipients are either working or enrolled in school. A majority of the top Fortune 500 companies – including Apple, General Motors, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Home Depot and Wal-Mart – have DACA recipients as employees. Companies in Silicon Valley in particular have denounced Mr. Trump's decision and urged Congress to find an immediate fix.
On Tuesday, Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, said in a radio interview that helping the DREAMers was a more urgent priority for his firm than tax reform. "Tax reform can wait," he said. DREAMers "have a deadline that expires in six months." Meanwhile, if the U.S. government seeks to deport a DACA recipient who is a Microsoft employee, he continued, "it's going to have to go through us to get to that person."
Universities have been equally vocal in their criticism of the administration's announcement and many have vowed not to share any information about their students with immigration authorities unless compelled to do so by a court order.
Can Trump's decision be blocked?
Unlikely. But a pair of lawsuits launched this week will attempt it. The National Immigration Law Center filed a suit arguing that Mr. Trump's decision was unlawful on the grounds that it was motivated by anti-Mexican and anti-Latino sentiment, and also because it violated a federal requirement that certain policies undergo a comment period before being implemented. On Wednesday, 15 states and the District of Columbia also filed a suit challenging Mr. Trump's decision, which they charged was motivated by racial animus.