Senior Trump administration officials said Wednesday that the latest decision to limit an Obama-era program protecting some undocumented immigrants from deportation is a temporary measure until next steps are determined.
The administration announced Tuesday that it would limit renewals for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shields undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation to one year, instead of the usual two, and not accept new applications.
The decision came more than a month after the Supreme Court blocked Trump's attempt to end the program.
In an interview with NPR, acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli called the move an "interim action," but dodged questions about whether the administration will ultimately terminate DACA.
"If we had a final point in place, we would have already enacted it, but we are going to seriously go through a more significant process along the lines that the Supreme Court spoke in expectation of and consider all of those factors in depth that they identified and to comply with that order," Cuccinelli said.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Maryland said that the administration must begin to accept new applications for DACA. That ruling -- and a follow up hearing last Friday -- appears to have weighed into the administration's latest move.
During a House hearing Wednesday morning, Democratic lawmakers hammered a senior US Citizenship and Immigration Services official over the administration's stalling on a DACA decision weeks after the Supreme Court issued its order.
USCIS Deputy Director of Policy Joseph Edlow, who's currently running the agency charged with processing DACA applications, said he was not part of the decision, deferring instead to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf's Tuesday memo on the matter.
"Mr. Edlow, I understand you don't agree with the Supreme Court's decision, but do you believe compliance with the Supreme Court is a choice?" Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington asked Edlow.
"Supreme Court compliance is not a choice, however, the mandate did not enter until last week," Edlow said.
Jayapal repeatedly asked whether Edlow consulted with the Department of Homeland Security leadership or the White House about the memo.
"The memo was not issued by me. I would defer to Acting Secretary Wolf," Edlow said, later conceding that there were conversations but he wasn't consulted on the memo. Edlow said the agency was holding applications while it determined next steps.
"You do not get to decide whether or not you're going to comply with the Supreme Court order. You've had a month since the Supreme Court's decision to change your processing applications and make sure you comply with that order. You have not done that," Japayal said.
In a later exchange with Rep. Lou Correa of California, Edlow said USCIS will be releasing additional guidance "in the coming days as to how we'll be responding to every type of application."
USCIS is facing a budget shortfall which has resulted in nearly 70% of its workforce receiving furlough notices.
USCIS, which is primarily fee funded, notified Congress of its projected budget shortfall in May. The agency typically continues most operations during lapses in funding, such as last year's government shutdown. But during the pandemic, the agency suspended its in-person services, including all interviews and some naturalization ceremonies.
The Covid-19 relief bill released by the Senate this week includes a $1.2 billion loan from the Treasury Department for USCIS.