The window for Congress to pass a legislative fix for the problem posed by President Trump’s vow to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is almost closed. If Congress doesn’t pass a DACA bill by January 19th, three former Department of Homeland Security chiefs warn that federal authorities won’t be able to ensure a “large scale loss of work authorization and deportation protection,” according to the New York Times.
That is, of course, if Congress can even get around to passing any DACA fix whatsoever.
The venue for the warning came in a two-page letter sent on Wednesday to Democratic and Republican congressional leadership. Jeh Johnson and Janet Napolitano, homeland security secretaries under President Obama, and Michael Chertoff, a secretary under President Bush, say that the brute administrative task of organizing a new system to evaluate applications for immigration status adjustments from DACA recipients takes time.
That is, more time than may be currently available if Trump sticks to his six-month deadline for a legislative fix issued last September.
It all comes down to bureaucracy. Even if Congress is able to pass a bill that establishes legal procedures for DACA recipients to formally change their immigration status, the employees at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) still need to develop the rote bureaucratic infrastructure needed to make those crucial status changes.
Say the ex-secretaries:
Career officials at USCIS are well trained, but creating a secure and reliable process will take time, followed by a period of months to ensure individual applicants are thoroughly reviewed. For context, in 2012 when DACA was established, it took nearly 90 days before the first applications were approved. Even if it only takes half of that time for USCIS to establish a DACA process under legislation, Congress needs to pass a bill by January 19th to provide enough time for USCIS to process applications before tens of thousands of DACA recipients are negatively impacted by the loss of their work authorization or removal from the United States.
If USCIS isn’t able develop and execute a process by March 5, Trump’s effective DACA-deadline, the secretaries warn that the number of DACA recipients who would lose status would rise to an average of 1,200 a day. Without DACA status, Dreamers would potentially be left in sort-of legal purgatory that could result in deportation.
Of course, whether or not Congress is even capable of passing a bipartisan bill that would effectively legalize the almost 700,000 DACA recipients is an open question. Let’s just say our fingers are extremely crossed.