IN less than a month, many young immigrants will find out where their future in the United States lies, as President Donald Trump makes a decision on whether or not to continue protecting them from deportation.
Through an executive action signed by Obama in August 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has protected over 800,000 young people who were brought to the United States illegally, from being deported. The program gives two important things — protection from deportation, and a work permit. Both expire after two years and are subject to renewal.
Trump was strongly vocal about rescinding Obama’s executive actions during the campaign trail, but to many people’s surprise, he also showed moments of solicitude towards DREAMers. “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he said in a Time magazine interview where he was Person of the Year.
“They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” he added.
But as the old adage says, actions speak louder than words, and many are closely watching recent actions inside the White House. As DACA’s fifth year anniversary winds down, the Sept. 5 deadline given to Trump and his administration has people on edge.
Led by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, Republican state attorneys general from Louisiana, Alabama, Nebraska, Arkansas, South Carolina, Idaho, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kansas, exhorted the Trump administration to halt the DACA program. If the federal government fails to withdraw DACA by the September deadline, a legal challenge would be filed.
According to a 2014 Pew Research Center estimate, close to 1.1 million unauthorized immigrants are eligible for DACA benefits since Obama’s signing. About 800,000 (78 percent) of them have received deportation relief and work permits through DACA. Around 588,000 renewals have been issued since 2012, with more due as many recipients’ two years approach.
Anthony Ng, a policy advocate on immigrant rights at the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles (AAJC-LA), has been a DACA recipient since 2012 and said the program gave him relief knowing he wasn’t going to be a target of deportation.
“It made me feel like I’m living a normal life,” said Ng to the Asian Journal. “I’m able to contribute in a way I want to contribute — that being in the nonprofit industry.”
Like Ng, many DACA grantees have benefited from being able to support themselves financially, obtain driver’s licenses, get access to healthcare, and further themselves in life through being able to get instate tuition and work.
“It’s been a source of relief and source of ability to build a future I want to have,” said Ng who graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a B.A. in Political Science.
Over 16,722 are Asian American immigrant youth, according to a press release by AAJC.
Aside from allowing DREAMers to participate in the labor force, garner better wages, and pursue higher education, the program has also been beneficial for the economy.
The largest study to date for DACA recipients, conducted by the Center for American Progress, found that at least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employed DACA recipients. These companies include Apple, General Motors, Amazon, and Wells Fargo — all accounting for $2.8 trillion in annual revenue.
Many advocates have taken to social media to voice their stand against the rescinding of DACA through hashtags #DefendDACA and #HereToStay. Included are personal stories of undocumented immigrants.
“If DACA is repealed, I would be out of a job immediately and I won’t be able to teach my students,” reads a story by Saba Nafees on the website of FWD.us, a non-profit advocacy group that focuses on immigration reform in the tech community.
Nafees was born in Pakistan, but grew up in Fort Worth, Texas and is currently doing her PhD at Texas Tech University where she looks to understand genetic diseases through math.
“It taught me what it’s like to work alongside my American students and peers. I’m just as much a part of their lives as they are mine.”
Juan Escalante, a self professed “coffee drinker, NPR fan, media and tech enthusiast,” and undocumented immigrant, shared an open letter to Trump on Medium.com that got shared by many on Twitter.
“Mr. President, just as your parents wanted you to succeed, and just as you want your children to succeed, my parents took a great risk for my future,” wrote Escalante in the letter. “It’s what families do. My family and I do not have a pathway towards citizenship, not today, tomorrow, or ever. That is why DACA is so important.”
If Trump does end up cancelling DACA, bigger questions as to how he would do so become more critical. As of now, there is no clear way of knowing what will happen.
“Anything is possible. It’s very unpredictable,” said Ng on what the future holds.
Immigration lawyer J Craig Fong at Fong & Aquino LLP, has been practicing law for about 35 years, and has handled DACA cases since the program’s inception. Fong told the Asian Journal that advising what next steps recipients should take is risky right now, as there is no telling what exact actions Trump will take.
Furthermore, giving advice to a whole group isn’t the best way to go as each case is different — not everyone came to the United States the same way.
Advocates like Fong and Ng agree that staying informed is the best way to approach the situation. “Sit tight and watch for announcements,” said Fong.
“We’re just making sure that we’re preparing for anything our community needs,” said Ng. “We’re going to protect and fight for the immigrant community.” (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)