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DHS reviewing status of Obama’s deferred-action program for illegal immigrants

A woman holds up a signs in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, during an immigration reform rally at the White House on Aug. 15. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Top officials at the Department of Homeland Security met this week to review the status of a deferred-action program for illegal immigrants that could face a legal challenge from Texas next month, raising fears among advocates that President Trump could choose to eliminate it.

Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke and Thomas Homan, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were among those who gathered Monday to deliberate over the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), according to an agency official with knowledge of the meeting.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to end DACA, which began in 2012 under the Obama administration, on his first day in office, calling it an unconstitutional abuse of executive authority. But Trump has not followed through on his threats. The program has provided renewable, two-year work permits to nearly 800,000 immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

Chad Wolf, DHS's acting chief of staff; deputy general counsel Dimple Shah; and James D. Nealon, a former U.S. ambassador to Honduras working on policy at the agency, also attended the meeting this week, according to the official familiar with the meeting.

It is not clear what conclusions the group reached. But rumors swept through the immigrant rights community Thursday that a decision from Trump is imminent.

Any decision would provoke strong reaction from both sides of the debate.

An undocumented immigrant worries what will happen if Trump repeals DACA. (Video: Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post)

DACA is immensely popular among Latino and Asian American communities. The president has wavered on his threats, and in April suggested that the DACA recipients, known as "dreamers," could “rest easy.”

Immigration hard-liners, including some Republicans in Congress, have pressed Trump to act. The threat of a lawsuit from the states has led to speculation that the Justice Department, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who opposed DACA as a Republican senator from Alabama, would not defend the program. Texas set a deadline of Sept. 5 for the administration to end the program.

Last year, a federal appeals court upheld an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Brownsville, Tex., who halted an Obama-era program that offered three-year work permits to the illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens a day before it was scheduled to begin enrolling applicants.

Last week, Hanen agreed to halt further proceedings on the deferred-action programs in his courtroom until after the Sept. 5 deadline on DACA.

In the wake of the legal activity, the DHS officials gathered to “review the status of DACA and [determine] next steps” for the program, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

“If Trump decides to end the successful DACA program, it would signal that he has decided to appeal to the white supremacists in his base rather than to courageously lead in this moment,” Marilena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said Thursday. “He would be betraying the young immigrants he reassured did not have anything to worry about and claimed to have a 'heart' for.”

On the other side, some immigration hard-liners have suggested that Trump could try to push through a package of legislation that would offer the dreamers more permanent legal status, along with new border security measures, including a reduction in the level of legal migration. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.) have introduced a bill, with Trump's backing, to slash legal immigration levels in half over a decade.

Trump said this week that he would be willing to shut down the government over a spending bill in September if Congress does not allocate money for the border wall he has promised to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“If the supporters of the [dreamers] are scared enough, they might be willing to deal,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration levels, wrote this month in the National Review.