Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly declined to commit his department to defending an Obama-era program that defers deportation for more than 800,000 illegal aliens.
During a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Tuesday, the secretary told lawmakers he could not guarantee the administration’s continued support for the program, called Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The policy protects illegal aliens who arrived in the U.S. as children from deportation, and allows them to apply for work permits.
Sources in the meeting told Politico that Kelly expressed his personal support for the program, but he also said administration lawyers with whom he consulted advised that the program would not survive a legal challenge.
“This is what he’s being told by different attorneys, that if it goes to court it might not survive,” Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan told The Washington Post.
“It’s not a pretty picture,” Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey told reporters after the meeting. “The legal authorities that he’s spoken to suggest that DACA cannot be sustained legally. We have a different view.”
A divided Supreme Court affirmed a nationwide injunction halting the program’s implementation in June 2016. The justices split four to four on the matter. When the justices split evenly on a decision, the decision of the relevant lower court is upheld. In this instance, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the injunction, which was first issued by District Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas.
A coalition of 10 states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Session in late June, demanding DACA’s termination. The coalition promised to sue if the program was not ended.
“We respectfully request that the Secretary of Homeland Security phase out the DACA program,” Paxton wrote. “Just like DAPA, DACA unilaterally confers eligibility for work authorization and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress.”
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