Fasten your seat belts.
For months, we’ve heard President Trump and his administration talk about plans to overhaul the US immigration system. Now, the rubber is hitting the road.
From DACA to TPS, the alphabet soup is enough to make anyone’s head spin. But it all boils down to this: More than a million people are on the verge of losing protections that keep them from getting kicked out of the United States unless Congress and the President can agree on a solution.
And that’s just the beginning. The administration is also pushing its plans for a border wall, calling for a sweeping overhaul of legal immigration and looking for places to build more immigrant detention centers.
The whirlwind is intensifying as politicians on both sides of the aisle pitch a dizzying array of proposals and trade blame over why no one has managed to make a deal.
In a matter of days, we’ve seen a negotiation stalemate. A government shutdown. And a promise from the administration that it’s going to put exactly what it wants down on paper.
With new twists in Washington daily, it’s hard to keep track of what’s at stake, especially for people outside the beltway.
Here’s a quick snapshot of what’s happening now, and why you should be paying attention:
1. DACA: The clock is ticking
People on both sides of the aisle – and a majority of Americans – say they support helping so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. But the devil, as always, will be in the details. And there’s a major deadline looming.
The Trump administration has announced that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is ending on March 5. The program, created by the Obama administration, gave Dreamers a chance to stay in the United States without fear of deportation and to get two-year work permits. Now roughly 700,000 of them are in limbo, waiting for Congress to pass a legislative solution before time runs out.
A ruling this month by a federal judge in California threw a surprise twist into the mix. US District Judge William Alsup blocked the Trump administration’s DACA rollback plan, ordering officials to continue processing renewal applications. The administration has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in. It’s not clear what impact this could have on negotiations over a DACA fix on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers are kicking around a number of options, with the Trump administration indicating it supports a fix – with conditions. But it’s still unclear what those conditions will be once negotiations have finished. The White House says it will unveil its framework for an immigration compromise on Monday. One key point for Trump: Any DACA deal must come with funding for a border wall.
2. The wall: Seeking funding for a campaign promise
Trump’s plan to build a “big, beautiful wall” at the US-Mexico border was a cornerstone of his campaign. And he’s sticking to his guns, as he recently made clear.
The President told reporters this week that he wants $25 billion for border wall construction. But so far, the administration has had a hard time getting Congress to fork over much money. Democrats lately seemed open to some compromise on this front, but then pulled their offer off the table.
Still, there’s been some significant headway. Bit by bit, officials are acquiring more land in the area. They’ve been testing eight prototypes built along the border. And Trump has said he might visit them soon.
3. Legal immigration: Taking a hard look
Most immigrants who come to the United States legally have a family tie that paves the way. The Trump administration wants to change that. Officials have dubbed family-based immigration “chain migration.” They say it’s unfair and unsafe, and they’ve pointed to a few recent events to bolster their case. Instead, officials say potential immigrants’ skills should be the deciding factor.
Groups that have long advocated for reducing overall immigration say they’re excited to hear the White House taking their side. Some immigrant rights advocates say family-based immigration is as American as apple pie, and it simply doesn’t make sense to change that.
Another program in the administration’s crosshairs: the diversity visa lottery, which gives up to 50,000 people every year a chance to become permanent residents of the United States. The administration also has been targeting temporary visas, looking to curtail their use.
A major overhaul of legal immigration would require Congress to pass legislation. But immigrant rights advocates say there are signs the Trump administration is already reshaping the system in more subtle ways: denying more visas, tinkering with the number of visas it makes available and redefining the qualifications to get them – all things it can do without lawmakers’ help.
4. TPS: From solid ground to quicksand
The administration dealt what could be a devastating blow to more than a quarter of a million immigrants from El Salvador this month. After a series of earthquakes hit the Central American country in 2001, the US government gave this group “Temporary Protected Status.” Known as TPS, this shielded them from deportation and let them get work permits. Now, officials say that protection will end in September 2019.
Immigration hard-liners are swift to point out that “temporary” was always part of the deal. Immigrant rights groups say it’s unfair to uproot hundreds of thousands of people who’ve been obeying the law, paying taxes, working and raising families here.
While 2019 sounds like it’s a ways off, Salvadorans who are directly affected by the move say they’re shaken and unsure of what to do next. For nearly two decades, they had solid ground beneath their feet. Now it feels like quicksand.
And it’s not just the Salvadorans: The US government this fall also did away with similar protections for tens of thousands of Haitian, Sudanese and Nicaraguan immigrants.
Their only hope: Congress could pass legislation giving them the opportunity to become legal residents. If that fails, and they can’t find another way to stay legally, they’ll either be forced to return to their home countries or face deportation.
5. Detention and deportation: A key area to watch
The administration has vowed to step up immigration enforcement by hiring more agents, putting more undocumented immigrants behind bars and deporting them at a faster clip.
The first year of Trump’s presidency shows this is much tougher than it sounds. Arrests are up, but deportations are down. One possible reason: Immigration courts are still grappling with a significant backlog, and the administration is looking for more detention space. The administration has pointed to a drastic drop in border crossings early last year, though experts say that alone doesn’t fully explain the numbers.
What about the 5,000 new Border Patrol officers and 10,000 new ICE agents the administration has said it plans to hire? That’s a tall order, too – and one that also requires funding from Congress. Even now, the agencies aren’t able to keep up with attrition alone. Brandon Judd, who heads the Border Patrol agents’ union, criticized lawmakers this month for not doing enough to meet the goal. “At this rate,” he testified, “the agents we hire this year will be halfway to retirement before we meet this goal in 2028.”
Note: This story has been updated to reflect new developments.
CNN’s Tal Kopan contributed to this report.