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Long-term fate of Dreamers remains in limbo after a day of rumors

A flurry of rumors, conflicting reports and divergent statements on Friday highlighted deep divisions within the Trump administration over a major element of immigration policy -- the fate of the roughly 750,000 so-called Dreamers who are shielded from deportation by an Obama-era policy.

The rumors began after Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, moving to meet a court deadline, issued a memorandum late Thursday evening that formally ended the legal fight over former President Obama’s 2014 DAPA program. That initiative sought to temporarily remove the threat of deportation for more than 4 million immigrant parents of children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

The DAPA program was never fully implemented because of a series of legal challenges by mostly Republican-led states. So formally revoking it had little direct impact.

But one line of the memorandum noted that Obama's 2012 order that shielded Dreamers -- young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children -- “will remain in effect.” That program, known as DACA, began five years ago this week. 

The language saying DACA remained in effect raised hopes among immigrant activists that President Trump had decided to permanently keep the program in effect. 

Trump vowed as a candidate to end the DACA program, calling it an “unconstitutional executive amnesty.” But his administration has continued to receive applications and renewal requests and grant work visas to eligible individuals since he took office in January.

Within the administration, some officials have pressed for Trump to stick with his promise to repeal DACA. But Trump has repeatedly said he does not want to see the Dreamers deported, and other advisers have urged them to leave DACA in place.

There is currently no formal process underway at the Homeland Security department to terminate the 5-year-old program, an administration official said. 

But a White House official separately insisted that “there has been no final determination on DACA,” leaving it, and the fate of the estimated 750,000 who have won work permits under the program, uncertain.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the ongoing ambiguity of the administration’s policies “continues to create fear and anxiety in immigration communities.”

“Their announcement to keep DACA, while revoking DAPA and deporting family members is deceitful and is another effort to keep immigrant families feeling uncomfortable about their place in America,” she said.

On the other side of the debate, Trump's failure to repeal DACA continues to generate complaints from some of his most ardent supporters.

"I certainly am very happy that Secretary Kelly ended DAPA ... that is a good thing and needed to happen -- but it does not fulfill Trump's campaign promise. DACA needs to be ended," said Rosemary Jenks, the head of government relations for NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for lower immigration levels.

There are ways to end DACA "to make it less painful" by phasing the work permits out gradually, Jenks said in an interview. NumbersUSA often mobilizes supporters to pressure lawmakers and the White House to adopt more restrictive immigration policies.

"It is clear the decision on DACA has been made at the White House," said Jenks. "That is truly on Trump and he needs to do it," she said.

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said DACA was unconstitutional. "You can't continue to do something that is unconstitutional," Jenks said.

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