When President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, he created a March 5 deadline for protections to end, designed to give Congress time to act to save the program.
But while lawmakers have continued to use the March 5 date as a target, court action and the realities of the program have made any deadline murky and unclear.
As a result, there currently is no date that the protections will actually run out for the roughly 700,000 DACA recipients, young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children -- but there remains a large amount of uncertainty about whether they could disappear at any time.
Trump himself mentioned the March 5 deadline in a tweet Monday.
"Any deal on DACA that does not include STRONG border security and the desperately needed WALL is a total waste of time. March 5th is rapidly approaching and the Dems seem not to care about DACA. Make a deal!"
The original plan proposed by Trump in September was that the Department of Homeland Security would phase out DACA by letting the two-year protections and work permits issued under the program expire without the option to renew them. But the administration allowed anyone with permits that expired before March 5 a one-month window to apply for a renewal, which would reset their two-year clock.
However, 20,000 of the 150,000 eligible to renew didn't. They were either rejected, unable to pull together the paperwork and $500 fee, or unwilling to trust the government with their personal data and enroll again. Further complicating things, some of those rejections were later reopened after DHS acknowledged that thousands may have had their applications lost in the mail or delivered on time but rejected as late.
Then, in January, a federal court judge issued an order stopping the President's plan to phase out DACA, and DHS has since resumed processing applications for renewals for all the recipients who had protections in September.
But the administration has also aggressively sought to have the judge's ruling overturned by a higher court, including the Supreme Court, only adding uncertainty to the situation. If a court were to overturn the judge's ruling, it could have several outcomes, including letting renewals processed in the interim stand, invalidating all of those renewals or even ending the whole program immediately.
And even though the renewals are being accepted, it could be months before they're issued. DHS has traditionally told recipients to allow upward of four months for applications to be processed. In the meantime, recipients could be without protections if they encounter federal immigration agents. For anyone looking for greater clarity, there simply is none to be had.
"Any time there's court action like that injunction, combined with an ongoing aggressive effort by the administration to invalidate the whole program, that creates more uncertainty about the deadline," Delaware Democrat Sen. Chris Coons said in a conference call with reporters Monday.
Trump himself has suggested publicly that he may extend the program if Congress fails to act, telling CNBC late last month, "If we need a little more time, we'll take a little more time."
But Coons told reporters that Trump's own DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, has told lawmakers that the administration does not have the authority to do so.
In the meantime, since the court decision, lawmakers have continued to reference the March date as their deadline.
"Yes, it's possible the March 5 deadline will be moved back," Coons said. "But it provides no confidence, no security, for Dreamers, for their families, for the community, for our community. I think our best course is to act as if the March 5 deadline is the real deadline and stop playing with the lives of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers."