Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
The Trump Administration made it official Tuesday: It will end an Obama-era program that has granted relief from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement that the administration will phase out the initiative — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — program — over six months.
Started in 2012, the program has awarded more than 800,000 recipients — including more than 120,000 Texans — a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings. It applies to undocumented immigrants who came to the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012.
During a conference call Tuesday morning with reporters, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official said that any initial requests or requests for DACA renewals and accompanying work permits that had already been received before Tuesday would be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.
The official added that any DACA recipient whose benefits will expire before March 5 will be allowed to apply for a renewal by Oct. 5.
In a statement released before Sessions’ announcement, Acting Department of Homeland Secretary Elaine Duke said the agency would no longer accept new applications and added the administration's action was intended to prompt Congress to pass an immigration solution.
“With the measures the Department is putting in place today, no current beneficiaries will be impacted before March 5, 2018, nearly six months from now, so Congress can have time to deliver on appropriate legislative solutions," she said. "However, I want to be clear that no new initial requests or associated applications filed after today will be acted on.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated that he's always believed the issue should be handled by Congress, not the president. Speaking with reporters in Austin, Abbott declined to offer any specific guidance for Congress now that lawmakers have six months to act.
"I expect Congress to address it," Abbott said, calling it a "multifaceted challenge and issue" for legislators. "They want to tackle the issue. I think latitude needs to be given to Congress to tackle the issue."
Asked how DACA recipients in Texas should prepare for the program's end, Abbott said that's up to the federal government.
Rumors had swirled since last month that President Donald Trump was leaning toward eliminating the program after he promised to do so while campaigning for president. His decision sparked immediate outrage from immigrant rights groups and their supporters.
"This spiteful executive action runs counter to what has made America and Texas great," said Ann Beeson, the executive director of the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities. "While the Trump Administration will use the six month delay to point the finger at Congress, make no mistake that it is the President who is dashing the hopes and dreams of young people protected by the DACA program. Ending the DACA program is contrary to Texas values and bad for the Texas economy."
This summer, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton urged the U.S. Department of Justice to end the program, claiming it was an unlawful overreach by former President Barack Obama. Paxton and nine other state attorneys general wrote in a June 29 letter to Sessions that should the program stay intact, they would amend a 2014 lawsuit filed in Brownsville to include a challenge to DACA.
The 2014 lawsuit was filed in response to a separate Obama administration initiative, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, that would have expanded the eligible population of the DACA program and lengthened work permits to three years. That program was never implemented after the state of Texas sued the Obama Administration and successfully convinced a district judge and an appellate court that Obama overstepped his executive authority. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court split on the matter, upholding the appellate court’s decision.
In a statement Tuesday, Paxton applauded Trump's announcement.
"As the Texas-led coalition explained in our June letter, the Obama-era program went far beyond the executive branch’s legitimate authority," Paxton said. “Had former President Obama’s unilateral order on DACA been left intact, it would have set a dangerous precedent by giving the executive branch sweeping authority to bypass Congress and change immigration laws."
The issue has prompted lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to file legislation to maintain the program in some form, including the bipartisan BRIDGE Act in the U.S. Senate that would extend protections for certain undocumented immigrants for three years. Economists have also cited DACA’s benefits to the economy as a reason it should remain intact. Even Trump has stated before that deciding to end the program would be “very, very hard.”
But immigration hardliners argue that despite the “deferred action” title, the program is nothing more than amnesty for people who have violated the country’s laws – no matter how old they were when they first entered the U.S.
Jackie Watson, an Austin-based immigration attorney who represented some of DACA’s earliest Texas-based applicants, said last month that attorneys are already discussing what, if any, legal action they could take should the program be axed — and whether rescinding it might “light a fire under Congress to make DACA a permanent statute.”
But she also said all of those options would be uphill battles. “It will be a total Hail Mary,” she said.
Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.