Last Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally announced that President Trump plans to phase out President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program over the course of the next six months. During those six months, Congress will have the opportunity to save or reform the program. The decision comes on the heels of months of speculation as to how Trump’s administration was going to handle the controversial program; Trump spent a portion of his campaign hinting that he would end it immediately, but also said that he would treat DACA recipients “with great heart”.
In last week’s announcement, Session touted the decision to rescind DACA as one based on “law and order”, noting that “Societies where the rule of law is subject to political whims and personal biases tend to become societies afflicted by corruption, poverty, and human suffering.” Sessions clarified that while “We are a people of compassion (. . .) there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws”. Sessions further stated that the decision to remove DACA would “further economically the lives of millions who are struggling” and also “enable our country to more effectively teach new immigrants about our system of government and assimilate them to the cultural understandings that support it.”
New, initial applications for the program will not be processed, yet those who already have deferred action status will continue to benefit from it until their application expires while previous applications that expire within six months will be allowed renewal if submitted prior to October 5th, per the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. The USCIS will also no longer grant advanced parole to DACA recipients, meaning that they can no longer stud abroad or visit ailing family members in their home countries.
Trump’s decision to halt the DACA program immediately drew the ire of many tech, business, finance, and government officials. Over 400 business leaders from across the country signed a letter urging Trump and Congress to protect DACA on behalf of FWD.us, an immigration advocacy group cofounded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg himself took to Facebook to denounce Trump’s actions as “particularly cruel.”
In an email sent to employees, Apple CEO Tim Cook reaffirmed them that he would continue to “advocate for a legislative solution that provides permanent protections for all the Dreamers in our country.” Meanwhile, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer Brad Smith called Trump’s decision a “big step back for our entire country” and pledged to cover the legal fees of any employees facing deportation.
The DACA program was instituted through executive action by President Barrack Obama back in 2012 after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would have allotted many of the same protections to undocumented youth as the DACA does. Immediately, the DACA program weathered claims that it was a blatant, unconstitutional overreach of presidential power. Though the program’s constitutionality hasn’t been explicitly determined by the Supreme Court, a group of over 100 of the country’s top law professors and legal experts wrote an open letter to President Trump claiming that the program is not only constitutional, but also based on previous presidential precedent. You can read the letter in its entirety here.
The DACA program provided a temporary legal status for close to 800,000 undocumented immigrants, primarily from Central and South American countries. Applicants were subject to a litany of qualifications and background checks to ensure that they are not involved in criminal activities either domestically nor back in their home countries. Applicants must also have came to the US before their 16th birthday, must have lived inside the country continuously since 2007, and must be in school or have high school diploma, GED, or have been honorably discharged from the military. If they meet all these qualifications, applicants are able to then file a $495 application fee which they have to renew every two years. The program gave applicants work authorization and shielded them from deportation, unless they committed a grave crime.
The DACA program, coupled with other initiatives by the California state government, allowed me to be where I am today. I would not have been able to find a steady, above-the-table job to help my family out with bills, nor would I be able to cover my own expenses. I would not have been able to attend community college and transfer to a state university; even if I was, having to pay out-of-state tuition and receiving no financial aid would have made it nearly impossible to continue. I simply wouldn’t have the quality of life that I do today, nor would I be able to pay it forward by becoming a productive member of society had it not been for President Obama’s bold, common-sense action.
So Trump’s decision to end the program is clearly something I feel very strongly about. Trump launched his campaign by disparaging “illegal aliens” like myself as rapists, drug peddlers, and murders and continuously fueled his campaign with irrational anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican sentiments, so Trump’s decision to rescind DACA should come as a surprise to no one–myself included.
But nothing could have prepared me for the motley of emotions I felt the morning of his official decision. I was primarily filled with anger that he would do such a heartless thing, though I recognized it is typical of his behavior. I was then washed over by a sense of anxiety and hopelessness, knowing that my time in this country could come to an end soon, knowing that I would be unable finish my college degree or start a life here, knowing that the American Dream would be made inaccessible to me. The United States has been my home for the past 15 years, and though I would have little trouble reintegrating into Mexican society, the notion of being deported to a foreign land and having to start a new life is one that is frightfully unsettling.
Yet among all these negative emotions, I also felt a great outpouring of support from my friends and our allies who pledge to have our back through this situation and also a deep sense of appreciation for everyone who has reached out to me and the undocumented community. To know that these people will not sit idly by as this horror unfolds and use their voice to advocate for us is empowering and has assuaged some of my concerns. It shows me that they see past our legal status and see us first and foremost as human beings–neighbors, coworkers, colleagues, and friends, not criminals and miscreants who should be feared and punished.
If there is a single, thin silver lining around this dark, ominous storm cloud, it would be that Trump provided Congres with a six-month window to act, hopefully forcing them to finally act and do something in regards to comprehensive immigration reform or at least providing a path to citizenship to the nearly 1 million DACA recipients. However, as an undocumented person, I have little faith in our elective representatives to act in our best interest on this matter.
Though many Republicans have come out against Trump’s DACA decision, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to come to an agreement with more conservative members of their own party on how to move forward with this issue, let alone find common ground with Democrats on the other side of the isle. If any bipartisan bill to fix our archaic immigration system or provide haven for the millions of undocumented folks already in this country, it is likely that it will flounder due to ideological differences and disagreements on semantics.
That’s not to say that all hope is lost, however. GOP Congressman Mike Coffman of Colorado took to Twitter to announce that he will force a vote on the so-called Bridge Act, which would extend DACA protections for another three years and has growing bipartisan support in the House and Senate. In addition, the Attorney Generals of fifteen states plus the District of Columbia have sued the US government to block DACA’s removal on the grounds that the removal was motivated by prejudice against Mexicans, using Trump’s own previous words and actions to back this claim.
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) August 31, 2017
(2/3): When I return to D.C., I will file a discharge petition to force a floor vote on the #BRIDGEAct.
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) August 31, 2017
(3/3): #DACA participants grew up here, went to school here, and should be allowed to stay here. The time has come to take action.
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) August 31, 2017
Trump himself is seemingly not 100% in agreement with his own decision to repeal DACA, apparently because his “very big heart” is urging him to act more compassionately. However, this gesture wasn’t as genuine as some would hope, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) apparently “asked him to tweet this to make clear DREAMers won’t be subject to deportation”.
Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017
For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2017
Simply put, Trump’s decision to rescind DACA is not only heartless–it is also the wrong course of action for our country’s future & well-being. We need to continue putting pressure on our elected officials to stand up to Trump’s decision and take proactive, humane action towards immigration reform, not only because of the economic fruits born from the labor of DACA recipients, but more importantly because they are Americans worthy of recognition and compassion.
Our country has long been a refuge for downtrodden yet hopeful immigrants from around the world, so for it to take such anti-immigrant approach is akin to a human body rejecting its very own blood. National security and prosperity should be at the forefront of what our politicians and citizens strive for, but depriving nearly a million bright, young people of the opportunity to join our society is counterproductive to this goal.
We cannot relegate undocumented immigrants to the shadows any longer, or push them further into the frays of American society by making them believe they don’t belong. I am an undocumented immigrant, but I am also an American–a proud one at that–and I will not allow anyone to tell me otherwise simply because of my legal status.