By Jacob Kahn-Samuelson
Donald Trump announced on Sept. 5 that he will not be renewing DACA and instead will let it expire; that decision created an ongoing legal battle that affects hundreds of thousands of immigrants across the United States, including many in San Jose.
DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; those who qualify for DACA are allowed to get work permits and are placed at the bottom of the Department of Homeland Security priority list, protecting them from deportation for a period of two years. (You can read more about the program on the USCIS website.)
DACA was a major part of the budget debate, and the federal government shut down for three days (ending on Jan. 22) because the two sides could not reach an agreement. The government was later reopened after a deal between the Republicans and Democrats that bought the two sides three more weeks to negotiate.
As of Jan. 24, Politico reported that Senate Democrats have agreed to not insist on having a DACA bill as part of the budget agreement, with the minority whip in the Senate stating, “We’re viewing [immigration and spending] on separate terms because they are on separate paths.” DACA, however, might still be addressed. As reported in the Washington Times, David Perdue, a Senate Republican from Georgia, talked about the possibilities for DACA: “I give the president high marks for bringing a focus to this issue, not trying to solve every problem relative to the immigration problem, but to focus this on the legal immigration system, and I think we’ve got an opportunity to do that.”
The significance of this decision is shown by Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, who said in the Politico report: “The phrase used to me [is], ‘We’re six inches away from a spending deal.’ It’s just simply the DACA issue and the immigration question.” Before the announcement from Senate Democrats, it was thought that DACA was the major disagreement holding up the spending bill. Now debate continues on when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might keep his promise to bring the issue up for debate.
Meanwhile, confusion about immigration law reigns. “Getting a green card is as easy as getting a driver’s license,” said Erika Rivera, an immigration attorney in the Bay Area, when asked about the most common misconception about immigration law.
She explained the requirements to qualify for DACA: “There are seven: Be in school or graduated from high school, college, have a GED or be honorably discharged from the military. You must come to the U.S. before you turn 16. You must be physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012. You must be physically present in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 until present day. You must be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. You cannot have been convicted of a felony, be convicted of a significant misdemeanor or be convicted for three or more misdemeanors. You cannot be considered a threat to U.S. national security or public safety. Lastly, you cannot have legal status in the U.S. as of June 15, 2012.”
Ms. Rivera said DACA “has given 800,000 people work authorization, bringing more people into the workforce. I have clients who are engineers and clients who are working at Google. It has brought attention to the issue. It has changed people’s perception of immigrants.”
She said the economic impact of ending DACA will be “significant. On top of that, there is already a lot of fear from immigrants, and it has caused more fear from the immigrant community. If the government won’t be nice to the immigrant Dreamers, who will it be nice to?”
Ms. Rivera said DACA changed her job: “When it happened, it made work a little crazier because people wanted to get in quickly. Now that it has been taken away, you have to be more creative and look for other statuses that your client qualifies for.”
She recommended that those who are facing the expiration of their DACA status take the following steps: “They should speak with an employment rights attorney so they can find new ways to work. They should also consult with an immigration attorney before the DACA expires. Basically ask questions and get help. Finally make an effort to put pressure on the elected officials.”
Ms. Rivera said Donald Trump has made her job “way more stressful and adds a new element. I have spent more time calming people down.” When asked about the cause of the large undocumented immigrant population in the United States right now, she said, “I think it has changed over time but predominantly is economic. But more recently there has been increased violence.”
She was not optimistic about Donald Trump’s immigration policy legacy, saying, “I think it will be worse. He cancelled DACA and TPS (the policy helping the Salvadorans fleeing the earthquake). I think he will continue to find things he can act unilaterally on without Congress. I am scared we will see a large increase in immigration raids. I hope the Democrats win back the House and Senate and they can stave off some of his rigid immigration policies.”
On Trump’s justification for getting rid of DACA, Ms. Rivera said, “Trump’s justification for getting rid of DACA was claiming that DACA was never constitutional. Trump claims that Obama’s executive orders were unconstitutional about DACA.”
Ms. Rivera hypothesized about what will happen next with DACA: “I don’t think a lot will happen. If they do something it will likely come at the expense of other groups. (Border Wall, Chain Migration, etc.) What’s particularly scary is Trump has been attacking the legal immigration policies. This makes me question who would be able to come. I understand immigration needs change, but it shouldn’t be blown up by Trump.”
Ms. Rivera added, “Immigrants in general bring a different culture and bring different experiences. They bring a good work ethic and believe in the American Dream.”
Ruby Ramirez, the program director for the organization Amigos de Guadalupe, said the large undocumented immigrant population in the United States has various causes: “The word is ‘need.’ Something that is interesting for me is that my background is my parents came from Mexico and were undocumented. My father was born on a ranch in Mexico. My husband was born in Mexico and was born in a city. For me, it has been very interesting to see how when I visit my father’s family they talk about needing to come to the United States. In my husband’s family are not interested in coming to the U.S. They are interested in vacationing in the U.S. but only for a few weeks. The difference I have noticed between the two is the need for jobs, education and health services. When I meet families who have left their country of origin, 90 percent of the families want to provide more for their kids.”
Ms. Ramirez said DACA has directly affected her job: “We have DACA interns that work here. So part of it is the ability to be able to work with those students. The difference between the work I can do with a student who is a DACA recipient and a student who is ineligible for DACA is the DACA recipient can do internships anywhere, and they can go to any college. There’s a lot of opportunity for the DACA recipients. For a Dreamer who will not be able to qualify for DACA, they will not be able to do the internships at large companies, and they cannot get opportunities outside of California. And students who will not qualify for DACA will have a mental health impact on them. There is a level of fear and depression that we have to address with the students. I believe that it is completely wrong that we are unable to look at a young person and not be able to tell them sky’s the limit.”
Ms. Ramirez offered advice to someone whose DACA is expiring: “Fight. The students that we work with, we are teaching them to have on their radar what is happening each day with DACA; they then report the information to me. We talk about solutions, i.e. what will happen if DACA does and does not pass, to protect themselves and fight for what is right. And we are teaching them how to mobilize and bring their fellow classmates and neighbors and how to get together with other Dreamers around the United States. In order to build a movement, to pass legislation that will protect all undocumented immigrants.”
Ms. Ramirez then talked about immigrants’ effects on the community: “Immigrants affect the community like everyone else. We pay taxes and work. The U.S. culture exists because of generations of immigrants that have come into this country.”
Ms. Ramirez then talked about what she thought Donald Trump’s immigration legacy will be: “I believe that Trump will pass some form of immigration reform. I don’t know what will be inside of it but I think that we will see something. That in itself, the fact that he has a legacy on immigration (more detentions happening, removing temporary protective status for some countries, his whole talk about the wall), we will see the word ‘wall’ for the rest of our lives. But I think the wall symbolizes a president who wants the U.S. to be isolated from the rest of the world. And that idea will be his legacy.”
Ms. Ramirez talked about the impact of DACA on the country as a whole: “Like was said earlier, it has allowed the youth to be part of the building of this country. Ending it, I think, will take us steps back. Trump will go, and we will continue to fight for legislation to protect the undocumented youth and family.”
When asked what will happen next with DACA, Ms. Ramirez said: “That is a really good question. I think it will get stuck in court. For some reason I don’t think Trump will get rid of DACA. I think on March 5th he won’t be able to get anything passed, and he will give an extension to DACA.”
On the biggest misconceptions about immigrants, Ms. Ramirez said: “That we are here to take something from Americans. That immigrants don’t contribute anything to our society.”
Summit Tahoma Executive Director Jonathan Stewart explained the support systems for children at the school who are undocumented or whose families are undocumented: “We offer direct support for students when they are doing college and financial aid applications. That is the clearest example of how we directly support them.”
When asked about keeping track of families’ immigration status, Mr. Stewart said, “We don’t keep track of their legal status. I am not sure if by law we are allowed to keep track of their legal status. And us not keeping track allows us to stay out of tricky legal situations. Ultimately, we want to focus on to help the students learn and grow – the school’s goal is not to become involved with legal issues.”
When asked about the monitoring of ICE activity in the area and how the school would protect a student or family who ICE is looking for, Mr. Stewart said, “We don’t have protocol for monitoring that. We keep in touch informally with families. If anything does happen with families at the school, we are notified. I have been in a group with other principals that involves the police. We meet monthly to discuss school safety and discuss any law enforcement that is relevant to the schools. No one has ever brought up ICE raids in the group.”
When asked about whether or not Trump’s immigration policies have affected the kids or families at school, Mr. Stewart said, “Yeah, it has. There was a lot of concern among students and faculty about how it would impact people at the school. And his actions have concerned them further. In one case, a student’s mother is being mistreated by her employer but does not have much recourse because she is undocumented. Another person at school has a family member who is under threat to be deported, and it is difficult to do your best when you or your family member is at risk to be deported.”
Mr. Stewart added, “It has given some of our students that benefited from the program a boost when applying for college, because it gives them hope about the American Dream, and they can get the same support as their citizen peers. DACA just gives young people the space to imagine and work towards their future in the U.S. DACA ending might diminish the hope, but it will not take away from the hope. We are a hopeful school, and it will not take away the hope from the students.”
Over email, Summit Rainier Spanish teacher Angel Barragan talked about how DACA has personally affected him: “DACA has affected me greatly, both in negative and positive ways. I am a DACA recipient and therefore I am able to teach, drive, pay taxes and more due to the privileges it brought me. Unfortunately I also have felt what it’s like to lose those privileges, back in 2015 my work permit was not renewed on time and I ended up having to leave the classroom for about a month. It was a devastating time not just for me but also for the members of the community I work for.”
Mr. Barragan said DACA ending would impact him: “If DACA were to end, I would be unable to sustain myself or help out my family. I know there are students their families that are able to thrive because of DACA, so if it were to end we would all take a huge hit to what we are able to accomplish.”
“I think the biggest way that Donald Trump has affected me (besides DACA) is the perspective he has brought on undocumented migration. Even from before his presidency he was spreading some form of hate that pushes one group of people against another,” Mr. Barragan stated.
Mr. Barragan then stated what he thought Donald Trump’s immigration legacy would be: “There has a been a huge amount of hate that has spread since and it makes living under my label hard. I’m not sure what Trump’s legacy will be, I hope the country can look back in shame to an extent at how some of the racist point of views have gotten so far. I do hope love stems out of this, people coming together against bigotry.”