WASHINGTON (CN) - Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday to rescind a rule that lets people who came to the United States illegally as children remain in the country.
Phasing out the program, which is known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, is slated to take six months. During the phase-out period, the Department of Homeland Security will continue reviewing applications that it received before Tuesday's decision, but will not accept new applications.
At a press conference this morning, Sessions insisted that the wind-down will give Congress time to come up with a plan for how to deal with the people who have taken advantage of the program.
"We firmly believe this is the responsible path," Sessions said in Washington. "Simply put, if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and the rule of law in America, the Justice Department cannot defend this overreach."
Later Tuesday, President Donald Trump confirmed word out of Homeland Security that the administration has no plans to share data it holds on DACA applicants with immigration officers.
"I have advised the Department of Homeland Security that DACA recipients are not enforcement priorities unless they are criminals, are involved in criminal activity, or are members of a gang," Trump said in a statement.
Recipients of DACA, often nicknamed Dreamers, are eligible for work permits and must reapply to the program every two years. A senior Department of Homeland Security official said that people who already have DACA protections will not have their status revoked, and that Dreamers whose benefits will expire during the wind-down in the next six months can still apply for renewal. Such applications are due before Oct. 5.
More than 200,000 people are set to have their benefits expire in 2017, with more than 55,000 having already submitted applications for renewal. An additional 275,000 will see their benefits end in 2018, roughly 7,000 of whom have submitted applications for renewal, according to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security.
Sessions said Tuesday that the Trump administration made the decision to rescind the program because it is unlikely to withstand the same legal arguments that caused a federal court in 2015 to block an extension of the program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents or DAPA.
The attorneys general of 26 states had threatened to challenge DACA in court if the Trump administration did not walk it back by Tuesday.
Sessions recommended the change in policy in a memo on Monday, saying the Obama administration circumvented the traditional legislative process when it enacted the DACA program without Congress passing a law.
"If we were to keep the Obama Administration's executive amnesty policy, the likeliest outcome is that it would too be enjoined, just as was DAPA," Sessions said.