Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke speaks to reporters during a news conference at Ellington Airport on September 6, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday that sensitive information about Dreamers could soon be handed over to federal deportation forces.
Under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), DHS Secretary Elaine Duke said she could not guarantee a promise made by the Obama administration to those who registered with the DACA program -- known as Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals.
"They were told by your agency that if they submitted this comprehensive information about their background and their status to apply for DACA, that that information would not be shared with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]," Sen. Harris told Duke during proceedings before the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
"Are you willing to keep America's promise to these young people?" Harris asked.
"I can't unequivocally promise that -- No," Duke responded. She added that she was "not familiar with the promise that was made to these children."
Created by executive order in 2012, the DACA program aimed to protect undocumented individuals who were brought to the US at a young age, and now work, study, or serve in the military, and haven't committed any serious crimes. Members of the cohort are known as the Dreamers.
DHS released a privacy assessment of the program in 2012, which promised, "information provided in this request is protected from disclosure to ICE and [Customs and Border Patrol] for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings."
Earlier this month, President Trump rescinded DACA, with a six-month delay. He called on Congress to work within that timeframe to pass a permanent legislative fix to address Dreamers in limbo.
With DACA dying, participants are concerned the program's privacy protections may disappear, too. The information they handed over to the government, like their addresses and places of employment, could be handed over to ICE agents.
"The recent Department of Homeland Security memo rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program creates new privacy risks for at least 800,000 individuals," the Electronic Privacy Information Center said in a statement.
"The personal data provided by DACA applicants is at risk of use for unauthorized purposes, implicating the federal Privacy Act," the group added.
Acting Secretary Duke's comments during Wednesday's hearing won't ease those privacy concerns.
An updated "Frequently Asked Questions" page at the DHS website doesn't offer concrete assurances either. It states that "generally" information provided by DACA recipients won't be "proactively" provided to immigration enforcement authorities.
The department goes on to say that this policy could be modified or rescinded "at any time without notice" and does not guarantee a right or benefit enforceable in court.