Top immigration officials told senators Tuesday that there has been no change to the current policy that generally prohibits them from accessing personal information that illegal immigrants submitted to the government when they applied to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but also said that position could still change.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have been worried that the Trump administration would share the personal information of DACA recipients, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children but are protected from deportation under a two-year work permit, with immigration officials in an effort to speed up their deportation. But officials said Tuesday that so far, this change is not happening.
"It has not changed since 2012, but the information that we have always provided noted it could be subject to change," James McCament, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told senators Tuesday.
"From the beginning we noted that it could be subject to change. But it has not been changed to date," McCament added in response to a question from Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.
"We don't have any plans to target any [DACA recipients] based on any information we've received," Michael Dougherty, assistant secretary of border, immigration and trade at Department of Homeland Security, then told Hirono.
Hirono then pressed Dougherty further.
"Are you saying 800,000 current participants of DACA have nothing to fear regarding deportation, because if that is so, then you should put that out there. [...] If they have nothing to fear from deportation, why do you not put that out?"
"Ma'am, I don't have an answer to that particular question," Dougherty said.
Current policy, which has been in place since the start of the program in 2012, prevents information submitted by DACA applicants from being disclosed to ICE and CPB for general immigration enforcement unless certain criteria are met, such as national security reasons. McCament noted that exception in his testimony to senators.
"With respect to clearly setting out guidelines for what information would be disclosed … We have noted that information would not be turned over [to Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. But could be turned over if it fit the guidelines, and we will always make sure that is very clear," he said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last month that the Trump administration would rescind the program and stop considering any new DACA applications after Sept. 5. However, any recipients with a work permit set to expire before March 5, 2018 have until Thursday to apply for a two-year renewal.
The last DACA authorizations end March 5, 2020.
President Trump said the program would start winding down on March 5, 2018, which gave Congress six months to create a legislative program to protect DACA recipients.
Last week, acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke said she could not "equivocally promise" that DACA recipients information would not be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"I can't unequivocally promise that, no," Duke replied to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. "I do know that having them on two-year nonrenewable suspensions is not the answer and I look forward to working with the Congress and coming up with a better solution."