ONE of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises was a strict crackdown on immigration to the United States.
In that promise, he expressed commitment to ending many of President Barack Obama’s immigration policies, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was introduced in 2012.
Holding his first press conference since the election, Obama urged the new president-elect to think twice before getting rid of DACA because of the benefits it’s delivered to its recipients, who “for all practical purposes are American kids.”
“These are kids who were brought here by their parents. They did nothing wrong. They’ve gone to school. They have pledged allegiance to the flag. Some of them have joined the military. They’ve enrolled in school. By definition, if they’re part of this program, they are solid, wonderful young people of good character,” Obama said on Monday, November 14.
“And it is my strong belief that the majority of the American people would not want to see suddenly those kids have to start hiding again. And that’s something that I will encourage the president-elect to look at,” he added.
Under DACA, undocumented youth – who meet several guidelines – are granted certain privileges previously unavailable to undocumented immigrants including a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.
Nearly 742,000 undocumented youth – with 8,000 Filipinos – are currently enrolled in the program, with one-third living in California, according to data from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The specific benefits vary from state to state; California, for example, also grants DACA recipients access to driver’s licenses in addition to work authorization and deportation protection.
To add to the uncertainty of DACA’s future, Tiffany Panlilio, a DACA legal advocate at legal and civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA), said that many DACA recipients are fearing work termination due to backlogging at USCIS.
Because of the uncertainty of the program, Advancing Justice – LA has temporarily halted the processing of DACA applications and renewals. The organization has also encouraged DACA prospects to not go forth with applying and spending the $465 fee until there’s confirmation from Washington.
“The attitude in the last few weeks has completely changed,” Panlilio told the Asian Journal, adding the rush of fearful clients inquiring about the next steps to take to protect their rights.
Panlilio said that although the future of the program is uncertain, Advancing Justice – LA is offering free immigration screenings to see if recipients are eligible for other programs like family-based petitions, asylum and U-Visas, among others.
“DACA has opened up the gates for so many opportunities here in California,” Panlilio said. “We have a lot of Filipino clients who have used to DACA to complete nursing school and have since become nurses. They’ve also become doctors and lawyers. So it’s complete change, and they’re not going to take this down without a fight to maintain their dreams in the United States.”
Panlilio added: “I think one of the things that’s giving the community hope are organizations like ourselves which have agreed to have their back and support them. So right now, I think we’re all passed the mourning part, and I think we’re all ready to fight for their rights.”
Apart from the benefits in the legislation, DACA has boosted the morale among undocumented immigrants, according to Anthony Ng, an immigrant rights and policy expert at Advancing Justice – LA. Ng – who is a DACA recipient himself – said that DACA provides far more opportunities for undocumented youth than ever before.
“I think it’s valid to be fearful for your future, but the one thing I’m telling myself and other folks that I know who have DACA is to not lose hope. This fear shouldn’t let us stop fighting for our rights, and I think, in this moment, the community has our back,” Ng said, adding that the community includes, not just immigrants, but all Americans who believe in “people’s humanity and equal rights.”
DACA also provides a significant economic benefit to the program, Ng said. Because of the work authorization feature, DACA has allowed for individuals and families to improve their household incomes and prepare them for greater employment opportunities.
“I think we really need to look at our elected officials to champion our communities by holding the line to Washington, D.C.,” Ng added. “I think it’s helpful to see mayors to affirm DACA in their cities and communities, whether it’s in a social or economic way. It really affirms that DACA impacts the community that we live in.”
California lawmakers have already begun campaigning for immigrant rights, like Rep. Judy Chu who on Tuesday, November 15 urged the Obama administration to “protect” the undocumented youth from the proposed policies of the incoming presidential administration.
“These children and families provided extensive amounts of sensitive information to their government, including fingerprints and relatives’ home addresses, with the understanding that it would not be used against them. We promised them security,” Chu said in a statement. “Now they are facing a nightmare. When we asked immigrants to come out of the shadows, we never imagined the election of a candidate who ran on a policy of mass deportation.”
A study released last week by the Center for American Progress estimated that removing the DACA program could potentially cost “wipe away at least” $433.4 billion from the U.S. economy. (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)