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As Trump administration begins phasing out 'Dreamers' program, Congress split over replacement legislation

 (Peter Foley / EPA-EFE)
(Peter Foley / EPA-EFE)

At midnight Thursday night, the Trump administration officially begins to unravel the Obama-era program shielding from deportation people brought to the United States illegally as children, accepting no new applications after that time.

The phase-out of the 5-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program designed by the Obama administration comes as Congress struggles to write legislation that would put alternative protections into law, as President Trump requested.

When Trump announced last month that he was ending the program, he said it was up to Congress to act to shield the roughly 800,000 immigrants who have qualified for two-year permits to remain in the U.S. without threat of deportation and work legally, get an education or serve in the military.

Work permits issued under the program begin to expire on March 5, and starting on Friday cannot be renewed. All protections under the program will be stripped away on a rolling basis over the next 2 1/2 years, as two-year deferrals expire.

Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois have urged the Department of Homeland Security to extend Thursday's deadline, especially for people living in disaster zones in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Up to now, people who qualify have been able to apply if they pay a $495 fee and submit to a federal background check. For two-year renewals, they must take the same steps again. The program has paid for itself using the fees revenue.

In a statement on Monday, Durbin urged people to act before the deadline, after which no new renewals or applications will be accepted. 

"The deportation clock is ticking on hundreds of thousands of young people who know no other country,” he said. "We will continue to press DHS to extend this deadline. But in the meantime, I strongly urge any Dreamers who are eligible to renew to do so by this Thursday.”

In July, Durbin and a Republican ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, introduced the Dream Act. It would allow some people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as minors to apply for lawful permanent residence and eventually U.S. citizenship.

But Trump has signaled in recent weeks that he will only sign a more narrow bill that would allow people who qualified for DACA to receive protections, and not expand to a broader pool of immigrants.

That would exclude, for example, close relatives of those who have benefited from the existing program. DACA beneficiaries would not be allowed to sponsor relatives for migration to the United States.

White House officials have also said that any law to replace DACA should also come with more money for immigration enforcement. That could sap Democrats' support for a bill.

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