President Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a top priority, a stance that was underlined Wednesday with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement search for undocumented workers at dozens of 7-Eleven stores nationwide. The agency said it was the largest targeting of a single employer since Trump took office.
A key part of Trump's crackdown is the decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the president and his supporters called an egregious example of executive overreach. That effort was upended late Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco said the nearly 690,000 DACA recipients must retain their work permits and protection from deportation while a lawsuit challenging the decision to end the program moves forward.
Dreamers struggled to make sense of the ruling on Wednesday. Initially, they celebrated the injunction in a blitz of phone calls and text messages. But it quickly became clear that this was not the victory they wanted.
Lawyers said the lawsuit and perhaps the injunction could drag on for years, and could also be appealed by the Justice Department, which spokesman Devin O'Malley said "looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation." The Department of Homeland Security did not say whether it would begin renewing work permits, despite an order from Alsup to do so, and provided no guidance on its website, which includes a message in red letters: "DACA is ending."
The ruling offers "a temporary window without a permanent solution," said Missael Garcia, 27, a DACA recipient who works as a chef at a Baltimore restaurant and has been saving and building up credit with hopes of opening his own restaurant someday. "This is going to be a continual cycle of protests, marches, civil disobedience."
Leezia Dhalla, 28, came to the United States from Canada at the age of 6. Without legal status, she took out $100,000 in student loans to get through college. Her DACA protections are set to expire May 4, and she's worried that she won't be able to renew her apartment lease or fulfill her dreams of attending law school.
"It's disconcerting because it's so chaotic," Dhalla said. "It feels like an emotional roller coaster to wake up and not have answers about my future."
Alsup said the government must continue to renew DACA and work authorizations for immigrants who had the status when the Trump administration ended the program on Sept. 5, though he said the federal government could deny them the right to return to the United States if they travel abroad. He also said the government did not have to accept new applicants.
The ruling said California and a host of other plaintiffs had demonstrated that they were likely to succeed on their claims that the Trump administration's rescission of the nearly six-year-old program was "capricious," and that the states, tech companies and other employers — and immigrants themselves — had much to lose in the meantime if the administration was wrong.
On the campaign trail, Trump had called the program an "illegal amnesty" and promised to swiftly eliminate it. But he let it linger for months after taking office, and said he'd treat dreamers with "love" and try to hammer out a deal with Congress.
In September, facing legal action from Republican attorneys general who oppose the program, Trump's administration announced it would phase out DACA starting March 5, when an estimated 1,000 dreamers a day would lose their work permits and protection from deportation. Trump has said repeatedly since then that Congress must pass a law to protect dreamers if they are to be allowed to stay.
"An issue of this magnitude must go through the normal legislative process," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated Wednesday. "President Trump is committed to the rule of law and will work with members of both parties to reach a permanent solution that corrects the unconstitutional actions taken by the last administration."
Top Democrats and Republicans met again Wednesday to begin sorting through the details of an agreement that would resolve the fate of people protected by DACA; bolster border security; make changes in legal, family-based migration; and end or revamp the diversity lottery system.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted that a solution to DACA must be part of any federal budget deal, an effort to stoke negotiations in coming days. On Twitter, he said the court ruling "in no way diminishes the urgency of resolving the DACA issue. On this, we agree with @WhiteHouse, who says the ruling doesn't do anything to reduce Congress' obligation."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a lead broker on immigration policy, agreed that the ruling "doesn't change the need for us to act, and so we're going forward." But later he told reporters that he didn't think the issue would be resolved by a Jan. 19 spending deadline because there still isn't an actual agreement on spending levels.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who joined Cornyn at the White House on Tuesday for a highly unusual televised meeting with Trump, recalled the president asking lawmakers, "Is there anybody here not for taking care of the DACA recipients?"
"Not one of them said they were against that," Hoyer said. "Everyone agreed yes, we need to take care of DACA-protected individuals, we need to take care of them now."
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) hosted Republican senators in his office to follow up on the meeting with Trump. The group has been in discussions for several months in hopes of brokering a deal that could earn the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles in the closely divided Senate.
The fate of dreamers is "hanging out there with great uncertainty," Durbin told reporters. "Whether it's by the president's announcement or a court decision, it's time for us to meet the president's challenge and to create a law that solves this problem."
But any bipartisan agreement could be derailed by lawmakers who oppose any concessions on immigration rights or security issues.
"This particular issue is one that can divide members in the House and Senate from the president if he embraces a deal that is considered too lenient on the immigration issue," warned Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.), a strident critic of Trump's calls for a border wall, said many lawmakers are frustrated by the scope of the negotiations. "There's so many moving parts on this, it's even hard to tell who's really doing the negotiating," he said. "It's a mess."
The White House called the injunction "outrageous" and the Justice Department has said it will appeal.
Kari Hong, an assistant professor at Boston College Law School who supervises a law clinic in the 9th Circuit, said Alsup's ruling signaled the Trump administration couldn't rescind DACA without a solid reason.
"The courts said you can't just change your policy, you have to have facts and you have to have a reason," Hong said.
Immigration lawyers also differed on whether dreamers should renew their status now. Some suggested that immigrants file an application to get their foot in the door while the judge's ruling is pending. But others said they risked losing the hefty application fee and worried that some immigrants would fall prey to fraud.
"It's urgent that we have a permanent solution with a pathway to citizenship," said Ivonne Orozco, 26, New Mexico's teacher of the year, who has lived in the United States since she was 12 years old, brought from Mexico by her parents. She teaches Spanish at a public school in Albuquerque and is also finishing a master's degree at the University of New Mexico with straight A's. Her DACA status expires in 2019.
In a joint news conference at the White House with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Trump was asked if he would support a DACA bill that did not include money for the border wall he has proposed.
"No, no, no," he replied. "It's got to include the wall. We need the wall for security. We need the wall for safety. We need the wall to stop the drugs from pouring in. I would imagine the people in the room, both Democrat and Republican — I really believe they are going to come up with a solution to the DACA problem that's been going on for a long time, and maybe beyond that, immigration as a whole."
Mike DeBonis, David Nakamura and Erica Werner contributed to this report.