The Trump administration dealt a huge blow to immigrants Sept. 5 morning as it repealed an Obama-era initiative that protected 800,000 undocumented children – including 7,028 Indian American youth – from deportation.
The president allowed a six-month delay to the repeal of the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – DACA – and urged Congress to create legislation to replace Obama’s 2012 executive order. DACA provided relief from deportation to undocumented students, and also allowed them to obtain work permits, social security numbers, and in-state college tuition in certain states, including California.
“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws,” said Trump in a written statement released by the White House before Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the repeal. The president noted that writing such laws was the responsibility of the legislative branch, not the executive branch, and chided Obama for “violating the core tenets that sustain our Republic.”
“These are American children,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, D-New York, in an impassioned press call with reporters Aug. 31. “Eighty percent of Americans support DACA, and keeping these DREAMERS right here where they belong,” he said, noting that Trump has promised compassion for undocumented children on several occasions after he was elected to office.
“They’re not here for hand-outs, they’re not here to harm, they’re here to contribute to our country,” said the congressman, who represents the Queens and Bronx neighborhoods of New York, both which host a large immigrant population.
Responding to a question by India-West during the press conference, Crowley said: “We will exhaust every legal avenue. But the president could show his compassion by not prosecuting or persecuting DACA kids, and give peace of mind to these young people.”
“We cannot send these children back to the country of their birth,” he said, noting that many DREAMERs arrived as young children, and do not know the language of their native countries.
In February, Trump said the DACA executive order was one of the most difficult issues he has had to grapple with. “You have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly,” hedging his remarks by noting that some were drug dealers and gang members.
But the president was under deadline to repeal Obama’s executive order: a June 29 letter sent by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to sue the administration if DACA was not repealed by Sept. 5. The attorneys general of eight other states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia – and Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho were co-signatories to the letter.
Protest rallies decrying the administration’s actions were held across the country Sept. 5. Several civil rights organizations also immediately denounced the repeal.
“This is devastating and heartbreaking for DACA recipients,” Indian American attorney Tejas Shah, who leads Franczek Radelet’s immigration practice and co-chairs the South Asian Bar Association’s immigration panel, told India-West. “My biggest worry is that these kids who led such unstable lives before DACA are being thrown back into that instability,” he said.
Given the six-month delay before the repeal goes into effect, Shah said there is currently little immediate risk to DACA recipients. “But none of them know what the future holds,” he said, explaining that once DACA protection is gone, and work permits – valid for two-year periods – expire, “there is nothing that prevents them from being a removal priority.”
Shah noted that the repeal places employers in a tricky position: knowing that an employee might soon not be able to work could mean that bosses give longer-term assignments to other employees who have a sustained ability to continue to work. While employers are not allowed to ask employees about their specific immigration status, a code on the work permit notes that the employee is a DACA recipient, explained Shah.
“This could have been worse,” said the Chicago attorney, explaining that the administration could have opted for the immediate repeal of DACA, but has instead given Congress six months to come up with an alternative to protect the children, who are also known as DREAMERS. He noted that there was a fair amount of support from Republicans – including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R- Wisconsin – to create a program similar to DACA.
Ryan issued a statement Sept. 5, noting: “At the heart of this issue are young people who came to this country through no fault of their own, and for many of them it’s the only country they know. It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”
The National Immigrant Justice Center issued guidelines for DACA recipients, noting that no new applications should be filed.
DACA renewals for individuals whose DACA status and work permit expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018, must be filed by Oct. 5.
All other DACA renewals, including those that have expired before Sept. 5 and those for individuals who have DACA status expiring after March 5, 2018, must be filed and “accepted” at the lockbox (not simply postmarked) by Sept. 5, explained NIJC.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services latest statistics – collected until March 31 – an estimated 7,028 undocumented Indian American students are DACA recipients, many who arrived as young children with their parents and have never been able to return to the land of their birth. India ranks 11 amongst the top countries of origin for DACA students; 7,881 have applied for the program. More than 17,000 are eligible, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute.
Pakistan ranks 22nd in countries of origin for DACA recipients: USCIS reports that 3,476 applications have been accepted to date.
Speaking at a press conference in San Francisco Aug. 30 – organized by New America Media – Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of the Immigrant Legal Center, affirmed that work permits will remain valid until they expire. Social Security numbers obtained through the program are valid for life, she noted.
People’s rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendment – which protect residents of the country against unlawful search and seizures, and the right to due process – are valid regardless of the person’s legal status, said Kinoshita, noting that immigrants facing deportation have the right not to let Immigration and Customs Enforcement into their homes, and also have the right to ask ICE for a warrant before allowing them in.
Mohan Kanungo, director of programs and engagement at Mission Asset Funds, told reporters at the briefing that MAF provides emergency loans to people facing deportation of up to $1,500 with zero interest, with a matching grant of $1,000.