President Donald Trump’s administration is continuing to grant work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, despite his campaign promise to “immediately terminate” the program.
The permits allow the immigrants to legally hold jobs, protect their employers against sanctions and open up broader economic opportunities to a group of people who otherwise would likely be relegated to the shadow economy because of their unlawful presence in the country.
The program, created by former President Barack Obama in 2012, has allowed more than 700,000 people brought to the country as children to obtain renewable two-year work permits. It can be reversed at any time by the president. On his campaign websiteand at rallies, Trump said he’d cancel it, decrying it as “unconstitutional.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Tuesday in an unsigned e-mail from its media office that it has continued to issue new work permits since Trump’s inauguration. The agency said it is still processing applications, as the Obama policy remains unchanged.
“We can confirm that DACA cases have been approved, and some denied, since 1/20/17,” the agency said, using an acronym for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
It’s more evidence Trump may be softening his stance on undocumented immigrants who arrived as children, whom their advocates call “Dreamers.” Trump told Time Magazine last month that he would “work something out” with them and expressed sympathy for their plight. Opponents of the program are expressing anxiety.
Trump’s transition team should have contacted the immigration agency “months ago to let them know that as of noon on the 20th, they should halt processing of applications until further notice,” said Mark Krikorian, who runs the Center For Immigration Studies, a group that aims to cut immigration to the U.S.
“You don’t need an executive order for that,” Krikorian added. “This is the White House’s first test, on a central issue, and they failed.”
Pressed Tuesday on why Trump hasn’t yet acted on his promise to halt the work permits, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president has higher priorities.
“His priority is first and foremost focused on people who pose a threat to people in our country — criminals, frankly,” Spicer told reporters. “With respect to DACA, I think he’s continuing to make sure his Cabinet-level team starts to organize and create a plan to move forward with respect to that issue.
Within Trump’s staff, there are sharply different views on immigration. His chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller have long advocated for a hard-line approach. But White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Spicer, most recently the chairman and chief strategist of the Republican National Committee, endorsed a set of recommendations in 2013 urging the party to liberalize its position on immigrants.
On Fox News Sunday, two days after Trump took office, Priebus said “we’re going to work with House and Senate leadership as well to get a long-term solution” for the program.
John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican leader, urged caution before rescinding the program, which covers only immigrants under 36 years old with no criminal record who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16.
“I think we need to be careful about that,” Cornyn told reporters after he left a meeting with Trump Monday at the White House. “You wouldn’t want to punish people who came here as children with their parents.”
After the election, Obama told reporters he advised Trump “think long and hard” before “endangering” the young people protected by his program.