Senate Judiciary Committee Seeks Clarity on Trump’s DACA Objectives

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Trump administration is moving forward with its plans to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but it hasn’t provided immigration enforcement agencies with any instructions on how to close potentially massive gaps for Dreamers who will see their lives upended after next year’s deadline.

Unless Congress intervenes, the cutoff date is March 5, 2018. After that point, according to Sen. Dick Durbin, D.-Ill., who was speaking during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, a staggering 1,400 Dreamers will lose their work permits and be subject to deportation per day.

“Teachers will be forced to leave students, nurses forced to leave patients, first responders to leave their posts, medical students to leave medical school and soldiers, who have volunteered to risk their lives for America, will be forced to leave [the military,]” Durbin said during testimony from officials from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

“This isn’t a looming humanitarian crisis alone, it has an economic component,” he added.

How the U.S. economy might be affected by all this could not be divined from the statements made by those before the committee on Tuesday.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D.-Calif., whose state is home to a third of all 800,000 DACA recipients, said President Donald Trump’s Sept. 5 order rescinding the program “stirred anxieties” despite his assurances, delivered via Twitter, that those who have benefited from the program in the past have “nothing to worry about.”

Michael Doughtery, assistant secretary for immigration and trade policy at the Department of Homeland Security, reiterated this at Tuesday’s hearing, telling Feinstein, “We do not have any specific instruction to go after any DACA recipient.”

He went on to say the same is true for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Republican members of the committee, including Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., sought to get a firmer handle on the administration’s position on DACA during the hearing.

“Is the president’s desire … to find a legislative fix? Does he have a desire to give these kids a decent life? A desire to secure the border as promised?” he asked.

“Do you believe the president thinks the Dream Act kids, on the whole, are a liability?” the senator continued.

Doughtery said the president welcomes immigrants but the “need to regulate their status by legal means” is a priority for the administration.

“So we’ve got this administration saying they’re a value to the country, the president wants to give legal status and the only thing standing between them and that outcome is Congress?” Graham asked.

Doughtery answered in the affirmative.

Democrats lambasted the administration’s decision to end the program and questioned if  Trump or his appointees were aware of the effects uncertainty around immigration status is having on communities in real time.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D.-Rhode Island, asked Doughtery and James McCament, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, if they could offer any assurances to those who now live in fear because of Trump’s decision to end the program.

“One of the things that we’re seeing is the effect this decision is having on people. It’s very frightening to people and very frightening to children, in particular, who as a general population – we don’t expect to be expert analysts on the Constitution or the contours of government policy,” Whitehouse said.

The senator said his office has reviewed a number of reports from schools and teachers who say larger numbers of children are “actively upset in class.”

“Teachers are having to deal with tears and fear that casts a pall on classroom performance … it’s not the teacher’s capacity to say, ‘here are the fine points of the new immigration policy and here’s who is or isn’t going to be affected in your family,’” he said.

Whitehouse asked Doughtery and McCament to carefully consider how they proceed and not simply see the process of unwinding DACA as an administrative procedure.

“I would hope that as you make the decisions you make, you take, to some degree, to account those human consequences that are playing out in the lives of these people,” he said.

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