DHS chief: Citizenship on the table in current DACA negotiations

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said recently that the Trump administration may support a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. President Trump had previously said that he did not support citizenship as an option. Secretary Nielsen emphasized that no decision has yet been made — and that building a border wall remains the administration’s top priority.

Last year, Trump announced that he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program, which offers protection from deportation and work authorization to qualifying Dreamers, was originally put in place by an executive order issued by President Obama. Trump has said that he prefers a legislative solution and gave Congress until late March to develop one.

According to Nielsen, Congress is considering both permanent legal residency and U.S. citizenship for those who have been protected by DACA. A third option more like the existing DACA program is also being considered. It would involve legal residency for a limited time, such as three or four years, but would be renewable. She believes any permanent protection would be limited to actual DACA recipients, not all Dreamers.

“It will be interesting to see where (Congress) can get comfortable with what they mean by what is a permanent fix but the idea would be that you move away from a temporary status,” Nielsen told reporters.

The likelihood of a potential deal is unclear. In October, Trump issued a list of demands in exchange for his support of protections for Dreamers. Many were unpopular with Democrats, including the border wall. Nielsen said the administration also wanted to address what it considers immigration “loopholes” in asylum processing and with cooperation between local police and immigration authorities.

Nielsen says she is optimistic. The American people have asked for a solution, she said, but the devil is in the details.

“Everybody wants to find a solution — a permanent solution — to DACA,” she said. “I mean I really haven’t talked to anybody who has said, ‘Nah, we don’t want to do that.'”

If you are a Dreamer or DACA recipient and are seeking a legal way to remain in the United States, contact an immigration attorney. All meetings with attorneys are completely confidential.