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What's Next For 700,000 DACA Recipients As Immigration Debate Breaks Down


And now we're going to talk about what is next for about 700,000 young people who are legally in the country because of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They had reason to believe at the beginning of this week the U.S. Senate would pass a bill to start the process to make their situation permanent. That didn't happen. And the Trump administration has said that March 5, just a few weeks away, is the day the program ends. Now those young immigrants are looking to the courts for relief. Cesar Vargas joins us now. He's both a DACA recipient and an immigration lawyer. Welcome.

CESAR VARGAS: Thank you so much, Kelly. I appreciate it.

MCEVERS: So there have been two recent federal court rulings on plans to end DACA. What do they mean in terms of that March 5 deadline?

VARGAS: Well, at this moment, the courts have, one, demonstrated that the Trump administration doesn't have the authority to discriminate nor use any type of racial bias when it's terminating a program. So that's the most important. Two, more practicable and obviously more helpful for many young people, is that it does allow the DACA program to continue. Namely, the federal courts have said that the president cannot eliminate the programs and that everyone who had DACA prior to September 5 can again reinstate their renewals. And that is opening an opportunity for two more years of protection against deportation, as well as their work at reinstation.

MCEVERS: Right. We should say the Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to consider these lower court rulings. What do you think that's going to mean?

VARGAS: Well, the fact that the Trump administration through Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asking the Supreme Court to make an expedited ruling on whether or not the president can terminate DACA is alarming, one, because we do have a much conservative court. And we do see that before the Supreme Court does have defer on the president's authority over immigration. But nevertheless, it gives us a little bit more time for people to renew their DACA and to at least be protected for a few more months if not two more years.

At the very least, we'll probably see a decision by the Supreme Court around June. And if they punt it to the full term, then, you know, it's another - more than a half year before a ruling is done. But at the meantime, the lower courts in New York and California have made a clear decision that the president cannot terminate the program as of now. And its DREAMers should continue to renew their DACA at the moment.

MCEVERS: Your clients are DACA recipients. How are you advising them right now? What are you saying to them?

VARGAS: Well, at this moment, if they do have the opportunity to renew their DACA, I tell them just renew them. At this moment, get your paperwork ready to go. It's - yes, it's $535. But it's worth it to have at least two more years of work protection as well as protection against deportation. But ultimately, I definitely tell them, you know, be very careful. Do not get in trouble with the law. If you drink even one drink, you take an Uber, take a taxi and don't risk anything especially because this administration has made it very clear that it's going to target anyone. Not just people with violent criminal records but people with no criminal records can also be subject to detention, arrest and deportations.

MCEVERS: DACA recipients wouldn't be in this position - right? - if the president and Congress had been able to agree on an immigration bill. I mean, do you think people are serious about helping you and other DACA recipients?

VARGAS: Well, I definitely do think that we have amazing allies in the House and in the Senate. We have allies who are Republicans and Democrats. But I do believe that this is where Democratic and Republican leadership have failed the American people who support a path to citizenship. But I do have faith that the American people will respond to action, will demand leadership from our members of Congress and will demand - whether it's in 2018 and 2020. But, you know, it sucks - right? - that we have to wait. But at the very least, I do have faith that we can get a solution. And the American people will respond to this in the very upcoming election and beyond.

MCEVERS: Attorney Cesar Vargas, thank you so much.

VARGAS: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.