The Biden administration on Wednesday released a final rule to fortify the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a move that comes as the immigration program remains in legal limbo.
The regulation, which takes effect on Oct. 31, is meant to protect DACA by codifying the program and replacing a 2012 memo that first created it. The Obama-era program currently offers work permits and protection from deportation to more than 600,000 undocumented immigrants.
“Today, we are fulfilling our commitment to preserve and strengthen DACA by finalizing a rule that will reinforce protections, like work authorization, that allow Dreamers to live more freely and to invest in their communities more fully,” President Joe Biden said in a statement, referring to young people who were brought into the U.S. and have remained without legal status.
Biden went on to directly call on Republicans on Capitol Hill to move for a legislative solution.
“I will do everything within my power to protect Dreamers, but Congressional Republicans should stop blocking a bill that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers,” Biden said. “It is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do for our economy and our communities.”
Congress has long been unable to reach any kind of immigration deal that would garner enough bipartisan support to pass the Senate. Last year, the Senate parliamentarian rejected multiple efforts by Democrats to include immigration changes in their party-line social spending bill. And Republican leaders have expressed little interest in Democrats’ attempts at overhauling immigration policy.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who has long pushed for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, was quick to applaud the Department of Homeland Security’s issuing the rule. He noted that it provides “some stability to DACA recipients and make[s] it more difficult for a future administration to rescind DACA, which is a lawful exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”
“However, this rule cannot provide permanent legal status or fully protect DACA recipients from relentless Republican legal challenges to the program,” Durbin said. “Only Congress can protect them.”
But some immigrant advocates expressed frustration that the Biden administration did not go further in its final rule, opting to keep the same criteria from when the program was created in 2012.
“This final DACA rule fails to strengthen the program by not expanding it to include the majority of undocumented immigrant youth who are graduating from high school this year and not eligible for the program because of arbitrary cut-off dates,” said Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, deputy director of federal advocacy for United We Dream.
“While Congress must pass permanent protections for all, President Biden cannot hide behind the courts or Congress. He can take bold action now,” she added.
Meanwhile, the future of DACA remains uncertain after years of legal challenges.
The Trump administration tried to end the program for years but was eventually rebuffed by the Supreme Court. Ultimately, a federal judge in Texas struck down the program, finding it to be unlawful, just months after Biden took office last year.
Since then, the Biden administration has been blocked from approving new applications for DACA, which has granted work permits and deportation protection for its recipients. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could rule on the program’s legality any day now.
Homeland Security specified that the final regulation would apply only to DACA renewal requests as the current injunction still blocks the administration from approving new DACA applications.