AMID reports of increased deportations under the Trump administration, beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program continue to be concerned about their statuses in the United States.
DACA, an executive order that was signed by former President Barack Obama in 2012, granted undocumented youth — also known as DREAMers — a renewable two-year work permit. Over 750,000 individuals have been spared from deportation.
As of this writing, President Donald Trump and his administration have not addressed the future of DACA. However, many immigrant communities are on edge as the signature program could be rescinded at any time, as it was one of Trump’s promises when he was campaigning.
Mariam Kelly, senior immigration attorney and DACA program supervisor at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, California, advised communities to understand that the program is still in a wait-and-see mode.
“That is something we really want to communicate to anybody who has DACA…and is looking to renew, it’s really important to know that to date there has been no change to the program at all,” Kelly told reporters during a press call on Thursday, March 23. “However, we do know that some kind of change will be coming.”
Though a lot of DACA recipients wonder if they could be deported should the program get canceled, Kelly reminded them that they have certain protections and rights.
“One thing to note for those who are in fear of deportation is that so long as a DACA holder has not been deported before, they have the right — the same as every other person who is present here without immigration status lawfully — to go before an immigration judge, to fight their case [and] contract a lawyer who can help them in representing them for some other form of relief,” she said.
Another possibility is whether the program would be replaced with legislation that would be more permanent.
Given that there are so many unknowns surrounding DACA, organizations represented on the call encouraged those looking to apply or renew for the relief to seek legal advice from a qualified and licensed attorney.
“We want to make sure that everybody has a detailed, in-depth consultation with an immigration attorney in order to assess whether they should apply for DACA for the first time or apply for renewal,” Kelly said, adding that each client will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
However, organizations like the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Community Legal Services and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) have put new applications for DACA on hold since they are unsure how the information of the undocumented youth would be used.
Depending on the advice of an attorney, those who were already granted DACA could seek renewal because their information is in the system.
“When it comes to risks, people who have DACA already are already known to immigration, their names are in the database of DACA recipients, so we have found they are at less risk of any kind of activity against them…so doing a renewal would not really change anything so long as there hasn’t been any change in circumstance of that particular client,” Kelly explained.
A legal screening could also point these immigrants to other options, such as special immigration juvenile status or family-based petitions.
For the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, Advancing Justice-LA staff attorney Martha Ruch said there are a lot of questions and concerns about who qualifies as undocumented.
Those who overstayed their visa are also considered undocumented, similar to those who came to the U.S. without legal papers.
Ruch added that AAPI citizens and legal permanent residents are worried as well how they would be affected by the Trump administration’s actions.
“The short answer is that citizens are generally not going to be affected by this. Citizens are not deportable, including naturalized citizens. But legal immigrants may want to consult with an immigration attorney or licensed practitioner to discuss whether criminal issues or potential international travel may be a problem for them,” she said.
Speakers participating in Thursday’s briefing also urged individuals to know their rights should they be confronted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
“Whether they are U.S. citizens or undocumented or permanent residents or on some kind of visa, these are rights that are available to everyone solely by virtue of being on U.S. soil,” Kelly said.
Some of these rights include asking for a search warrant, due process, and access to an attorney.
“The reason why we’re emphasizing know your rights at this time is because increased immigration enforcement means that ordinary people are perhaps going to be subject to questioning about their country of origin [or] their legal status,” Ruch said.
She went on to say that undocumented immigrants should also make a general plan for their families and workplaces in case they are detained. The details that should be included are emergency contacts, who would take care of their children or elderly in the home, and where to go to help, among others.
“From an advocacy standpoint, it’s really important for DREAMers and other segments of the undocumented population to remain visible and to remain strong and to not bow down to the fear and pressure,” Kelly said. “The only reason that DACA happened in the first place was from the response of the amazing organizing of the students, the DREAMer movement trying to get something passed for themselves.”