RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The future of the 800,000 so-called DREAMers is in limbo. The Trump administration is rescinding DACA, probably. Congress has six months to replace the program with one of their own. And Trump tweeted last night that he may revisit the issue if they don't act. DACA stands for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. And it's the Obama era executive action that helped nearly 800,000 people brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents find a way to live and work here without fear of being deported. The Homeland Security Department says it will begin an orderly phasing out of the program.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We'll have a great heart for the folks we're talking about - a great love for them. And people think in terms of children, but they're really young adults. I have a love for these people. And hopefully, now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.
MARTIN: President Trump speaking there. With us to talk more about this is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, what does this phase out - what will it look like in practice?
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Well, as of right now, the Department of Homeland Security is no longer accepting new applications for this program. It was designed to be temporary and renewable. So people who have renewal applications in the pipeline will still be considered case by case, but it's not automatic. They have to meet certain standards to get a permit to work and participate in Social Security. As you said, about 800,000 people overall have benefited from this program in the last five years, mostly from states like California, Texas and New York.
MARTIN: This program has been around since 2012 when former President Obama pushed this through with executive order. Remind us why this is now coming up at this moment.
JOHNSON: Well, a deadline - and Democrats would say it was a manufactured deadline because Texas and eight other red states had threatened to sue the Trump administration as early as this week over the DACA program. That prompted the Justice Department and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to review its legality.
There had been some questions about that in the Obama years during that executive action. Ultimately, the Obama DOJ said as long as it's an individual decision, case by case, and not a huge grant to an entire group of people, it's OK within the discretion of prosecutors and immigration authorities. The new Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided otherwise - said that the executive branch had usurped Congress' authority. But he didn't provide any more specifics yesterday.
MARTIN: All right. So now President Trump is calling on Congress to act to finally pass something to overhaul immigration laws, at least dealing with this piece - the DREAMers. But then he tweeted last night that he might, quote, "revisit" his decision if Congress doesn't act. So how likely is this particular Congress to even vote on this?
JOHNSON: Well, my colleagues on the Hill told me that could be really hard. The White House has designed the timeline to give Congress about six months. But Congress has not been able to do much on immigration for the past 15 or 16 years - failed to pass legislation, in fact, that would have helped this same group of young people called DREAMers back in 2010.
MARTIN: So President Trump - the whole argument for rescinding DACA is because he says President Obama did this illegally - that going around Congress, doing this by executive action broke the law. President Trump, though, has used a lot of executive actions in his tenure - significant ones like the travel ban, for example. Can you explain the difference here?
JOHNSON: Well, a Justice Department official was asked about this last night. She told reporters the travel ban's different because the authority there stems from a 1952 law, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and from the president's broad authority to protect national security and the borders.
In the case of DACA - this program for young immigrants - this Jeff Sessions DOJ says even President Obama doubted in some ways whether he had the power at the time to protect those young people even temporarily. It comes down to use of prosecutorial resources and discretion.
MARTIN: And now we should mention the Trump administration made this move because of the threat of litigation. Now they're facing litigation from the opposite side of the spectrum, right?
JOHNSON: Absolutely. Attorneys general in New York and Washington state say they will sue to defend people there. Another legal threat is coming in, Rachel, from the National Immigration Law Center. Those lawsuits could bring new scrutiny to public statements by Attorney General Sessions and White House aide Stephen Miller - some of the strongest anti-immigration voices in the administration - some questions about whether they were engaging in racial animus there.
MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thanks, Carrie.
JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.