3 ex-Homeland Security chiefs warn Congress a DACA fix must be enacted months before Trump's deadline

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FILE PHOTO: People march and chant slogans against U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed end of the DACA program that protects immigrant children from deportation at a protest in New York City, U.S., August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney Thomson ReutersPeople march and chant slogans against U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed end of the DACA program that protects immigrant children from deportation at a protest in New York City

  • Former Homeland Security secretaries urged Congress in an open letter to work faster to enact a legislative solution for young unauthorized immigrants temporarily protected from deportation.
  • The Trump administration is phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by March.
  • The former DHS chiefs, however, said a more realistic deadline is January 19, because implementing the legislation is so complex.


Three former secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security warned Congress in an open letter on Wednesday that a legislative solution protecting young unauthorized immigrants from deportation must be enacted by mid-January to allow enough time for implementation.

The Trump administration gave Congress a March 5 deadline to come up with legislation replacing the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields roughly 690,000 young immigrants from deportation. Known as Dreamers, they've lived illegally in the United States since they were children, and most know no other home.

Congressional leaders from both parties are expected to bring up DACA legislation with White House officials in a meeting on Wednesday. Lawmakers have been working on a bipartisan fix, but Trump has indicated in recent days he won't sign a bill unless the legislation includes funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Jeh Johnson, Janet Napolitano, and Michael Chertoff, who served as Homeland Security secretaries under the Obama and Bush administrations, said in their letter that Trump's March 5 deadline will not give the DHS enough time to meet "the significant administrative requirements of implementation."

Jeh Johnson Homeland SecurityAPDepartment of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson speaks about the agency's budget and cybersecurity at the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee session during the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015.

"The realistic deadline for successfully establishing a Dreamers program in time to prevent large scale loss of work authorization and deportation protection is only weeks away, in the middle of January," they wrote in the letter.

The former secretaries cited the need to create a "secure and reliable process" for career officials at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to follow, and time to thoroughly review the immigrants' applications.

They added that when DACA was established in 2012, it took USCIS officials 90 days to approve the first applications.

"Even if it only takes half of that time for USCIS to establish a DACA process under legislation, Congress needs to pass a bill by January 19th to provide enough time for USCIS to process applications before tens of thousands of DACA recipients are negatively impacted," they said.

The stakes for the young immigrants are quite high, the former secretaries added, noting that after the March 5 deadline, 1,200 immigrants per day will lose their work authorization and protection from deportation.

"Not only is there no reason to delay, but establishing this new program in 45 days would be an incredible accomplishment done in record time," they said. "This means Congress must act by the middle of January to ensure a successful program, avoid significant hardship for USCIS, the business community, and Dreamers themselves."

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