September 6, 2017
President Trump made good on his campaign promise to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era executive action that protected close to 800,000 undocumented youth. A giddy Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement Tuesday morning, repeatedly referring to DACA recipients as “illegal aliens” and blaming the program for everything from “a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border” (it didn’t) to placing the United States at greater risk for terrorism.
While DACA recipients are individuals, they also often belong to mixed status families: One family member may be an older undocumented immigrant, another may have a green card, and another still may be a citizen born in the United States. For the last five years, DACA recipients have been protected from deportation, have obtained work permits, and have lived with a type of second-class non-citizenship. Upending the program means destabilizing not only the lives of close to 800,000 individuals, but also the lives of parents, siblings, and children who got used to knowing that particular family member wouldn’t be deported.
There’s a good deal of confusion about what’s already happened and what we might expect next, especially given this administration’s inability to provide real clarity about DACA, and the White House’s general disarray. Here’s some of what you need to know:
Congress has repeatedly tried and failed to pass the DREAM Act
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act was first introduced in the Senate in 2001 by Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Durbin was originally inspired to create a piece of legislation to defend students like then-18-year-old Tereza Lee, a musical prodigy who was told by authorities that, because she was undocumented, she would need to leave the United States and wait ten years until she could apply to return. The bill Durbin helped craft would have provided Lee and others like her a path to citizenship. Despite bipartisan support, and a sympathetic story about an incredible student, the DREAM Act failed in 2001. It’s been repackaged, reintroduced, and reconsidered multiple times for the last 16 years and it’s failed every time.
What DACA is (and isn’t)
In 2011, Immigration and Custom’s then-director John Morton issued a memo that directed ICE agents to use discretion when considering whether or not to deport certain people—including those who’d been in the U.S. since they were children. But it wasn’t working; so-called low-priority removals were still taking place. In the summer leading up to the 2012 election, a small group of undocumented youth, organized by DreamActivist, began staging hunger strikes at Obama campaign offices. They demanded Obama sign an executive order protecting DREAM Act-eligible youth. Under incredible pressure for reelection and the need the get the Latino vote for re-election, Obama announced DACA in what he called “the absence of any immigration action from Congress to fix our broken immigration system.”
DACA was never meant to be permanent. The program required a $495 initial application fee and a thorough background check. Applicants had to be 30 or younger by the time the program was enacted on June 15, 2012, had to have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, and had to have continuously been in the country since June 15, 2007. They also had to be studying or enlisted in the military, and free of any felony and certain misdemeanors. Once approved, DACA expired after two years, but could be renewed.
DACA was not a path to citizenship, but it did pledge to keep the program’s recipients from deportation.
This is how DACA ends
As Julianne Hing points out in The Nation, the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA is just that: an end. It’s not a delay or a compromise, and it shouldn’t be understood as such.
Wednesday morning, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), which processed DACA applications, noted on its website that it’s no longer taking initial requests for the program. Advance parole, which permitted DACA recipients to travel outside the U.S. and return, is no longer being considered by USCIS. Until October 5, 2017, the agency is taking renewal requests for those people for whom DACA expires between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018.
When people applied for DACA, they handed USCIS detailed sensitive information, like fingerprints, addresses, and documents that confirmed their identity. There’s been a fear that USCIS would share that information with ICE, which could be used to deport DACA recipients once their approval expires. The Department of Homeland Security Tuesday confirmed that fear will become reality when it clarified that USCIS will hand over the information contained in DACA applications if and when ICE requests it for individual cases. For now, USCIS won’t hand over all DACA applications to ICE—but that’s little comfort for the nearly one million people who applied for the program with the understanding that their information wouldn’t be used to deport them.
Even if passed by Congress, the DREAM Act may not satisfy Trump
In his remarks Tuesday, Attorney General Sessions appeared to frame the end of DACA as a delay, saying the wind-down to its termination would “create a time period for Congress to act—should it so choose.” That could be interpreted to mean that if Congress passed a DREAM Act soon, the president would sign it into law. Senator Durbin, along with his colleague Lindsey Graham (R-SC), is already saying he hopes to pass the DREAM Act by the end of the month. That’s a tall order for a Congress that’s still supposed to tackle Obamacare, pass major tax reform, miraculously avoid a government shutdown, and then some by the end of September.
In the event that Congress does get the DREAM Act passed, there’s no guarantee Trump will sign it. Just hours after Sessions’s announcement Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump wants a comprehensive bill that includes a border wall and not what she called “a one-piece fix,” referring to the DREAM Act.
A White House talking points memo obtained by CNN reads: “The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States—including proactively seeking travel documentation—or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.” In other words, the memo encourages DACA recipients to self-deport.
Trump added even more confusion later. “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA,” he tweeted late Tuesday. “If they can't, I will revisit this issue!”
Congress may or may not pass the DREAM Act. And Trump may or may not sign it into law if it does. That’s the kind of uncertainty that DACA recipients, and their loved ones, have to contend with now. Their futures have been pawned in a legislative gamble with a Congress whose standard operating mode is failure. This ugly reality may get a lot uglier in the coming months, particularly around legislation that may comprise the future of other undocumented immigrants.
How DACA recipients, immigrants, and allies are responding
Nine DACA recipients and three allies from Cosecha were arrested outside Trump Tower in Manhattan yesterday; all were released within hours. High school students in Phoenix, Arizona, and Denver, Colorado, walked out of class in protest Tuesday. Immigrants and allies also marched against the decision to end DACA nationwide.
Multiple school districts, college, and university campuses are trying to figure out how to protect and defend DACA (or would-be DACA recipients). More than 400 tech industry CEOs signed a letter dated August 31, 2017 (before Sessions’s announcement), demanding Trump keep DACA intact. After the announcement of DACA’s end, Microsoft pledged to pay the legal costs for any of its 39 employees with DACA, should they face deportation.
It’s important to remember that undocumented immigrants are not a monolith. That includes DACA recipients. Erick Huerta, who blogs at Just a Random Hero, explains that he’s wary over the way the fight for DACA has been branded and coopted by nonprofits. “Folks like me will tell you that those with [DACA] are classist and too assimilated for their own good,” writes Huerta. “[DACA] or not, I'll keep moving forward one way or another.”
How you can support DACA recipients
Don’t blame parents. For too long, the narrative around defending DACA recipients has been rooted in not punishing children for their parent’s supposed sin of bringing them to the U.S. All that does is create a convenient good immigrant/bad immigrant dichotomy. Parents who brought their children over without authorization made the best choice they had available to them at the time. They should be thanked, not demonized.
Pay attention moving forward. As explained earlier, it’s unclear whether, if passed, Trump would even sign the DREAM Act into law. Multiple approaches to what, exactly, Congress should be fighting for are already emerging: The DREAM Act alone, the DREAM Act with a border wall mandate, and a massive comprehensive immigration bill are all candidates for now. Educate yourself on what you want your representative to advocate for and why.
Support grassroots, immigrant-led organization. DreamActivist, which pressured Obama’s DACA, is still around. You can follow what the group is up to on Twitter. Cosecha, which is a newer group that’s hoping to build a movement, is on Twitter, too.
Volunteer mental health services for DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants. Mental health providers are being asked to donate services; keep in mind that DACA recipients can’t access Obamacare and usually lack the luxury of mental health services.
Provide financial support for DACA renewal applicants. You can search and find various individuals looking for money to get their renewal applications in before time runs out next month. There’s also a DACA fund to help pay for the renewal applications of multiple applicants.