Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Democratic lawmakers Wednesday that the fate of former President Obama's DACA program to protect so-called "Dreamers" from deportation may be in serious trouble.
CNN and Politico reported that Kelly told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that though he personally supports Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, he is doubtful it would sustain a pending court challenge, and he would not commit to defending it.
"It's not a pretty picture," Sen. Bob Menendez D-N.J., who attended the closed-door meeting, told reporters. "The legal authorities that he's spoken to suggest that DACA cannot be sustained legally. We have a different view."
Obama's 2012 DACA program provides deportation protection and work permits to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
The program grants protection for two years, after which beneficiaries can apply again. Under the Trump administration, new applicants have still been able to request DACA protection through the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Hard-line illegal immigration opponents who supported President Trump in the campaign have called on him to cancel the program, arguing that it represents a form of amnesty and an abuse of executive power.
But Trump had demurred, issuing new memorandums earlier this year to not eliminate the program, and vowing to treat beneficiaries "with heart."
Kelly suggested he is concerned about a pending lawsuit on a related Obama program, deferred action for parents of childhood arrivals, that was never implemented and blocked by the courts.
As part of that lawsuit, attorneys general from 10 states are threatening to add DACA to their complaints, which could force the administration to defend or abandon it.
Kelly told lawmakers that they should resolve the status of DACA beneficiaries through legislation. Bipartisan bills in the House and Senate, called the Bridge Act, would provide legal status for DACA recipients.