By Jennie L. Ilustre
Asian American leaders have denounced the expanded, expedited crackdown on the nation’s 11 million undocumented, as announced on February 21 – but some were heartened to know that President Donald Trump has so far decided not to touch the Deferred Action on Children Arrivals (DACA) program.
DACA was a program under an Executive Order signed by President Barack Obama in August 2012. It granted renewable protection from deportation, work permits and driver’s license to certain adults who entered the U.S. as children and minors without authorization, and were raised and educated in the U.S.
DACA was not included in the two memorandums announced on February 21 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The memorandums, which expanded the scope of people who could be priority-deported and also expedited the deportation process of the nation’s undocumented, implement Trump’s campaign promise and his executive orders, including “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” issued on January 25.
Asian American advocacy organization promptly denounced the two DHS memorandums, with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC lambasting them as “unconscionable.” (Please see related article.)
The memorandums followed President Donald Trump’s statement at a press conference five days earlier that he would “show great heart” toward those covered by DACA. But The Hill newspaper based in the nation’s capital reported on February 22, citing DHS and White House officials, that while DACA will continue for the time being, it may be subject to later Trump administration enforcement actions.
In the U.S. Senate, some senators have prepared a bill they would file in the 115th U.S. Congress in case Trump revokes the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), according to Politico.
On February 20, asked about news reports that DHS memorandums drafted three days earlier excluded DACA, civil rights advocate Jon Melegrito said: “It is encouraging that President Trump wants to continue protecting the Dreamers by keeping the provisions of DACA intact. He is at least being consistent with his immigration policy to remove from this country only those who have committed crimes or have been convicted of felonies, although this directive is broad and could affect larger numbers of people, including legal immigrants.”
He pointed out: “Keeping DACA should reassure thousands of affected young people that they have nothing to worry about – for now. Still, immigrant rights advocates need to remain vigilant and actively engaged as these policies get implemented.”
Region 2 Chair Bing Cardenas Branigin of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) said DACA recipients are deeply concerned “because their names and other information are now in the government’s database, and the privacy agreement could be set aside by a new policy, putting them and their families at risk.” She added that a coalition of Asian American advocacy organizations nationwide is providing information on the rights of the undocumented to due process, a list of resources and some even offer free legal services, to Asians and other minorities affected by the Executive Orders and agency directives.
During his February 16 press conference, President Trump said, “The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me as I love these kids, I love kids, I have kids and grandkids and I find it very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and, you know, the law is rough. It’s rough, very, very rough.”
In January, immigration hardliners among Trump’s supporters held him to his campaign promise and warned against inaction on DACA. Politico reported Trump supporters said a simple memo would stop the program, noting that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was still accepting new DACA applications and DACA renewal applications.
Since 2012, an estimated 750,000 have taken part in DACA, according to The Washington Times. Michelle Boykins, Director of Strategic Communications of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, cited DACA figures in an email on February 20. “In 2015, we estimated 100,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were eligible for DACA. Not all of them applied for DACA, however,” she said. “As of March 15, 2015 only 18,000 people from the top Asian countries–South Korea, Philippines, India and Pakistan–had applied for DACA.”
Lawyer Arnedo S. Valera of the Law Offices of Valera & Associates, PC in Fairfax, Virginia, said in an interview on February 21: “These memorandums will break up families, criminalize immigration and will weaken our economy…This is so un-American…I am heartened that President Trump will not touch the 2012 DACA. For the last two weeks, our clients and other DACA beneficiaries were in deep anxiety, knowing that if DACA was ended, their dreams, their future are shattered.”
“But this news is also heartbreaking,” he added. “There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of undocumented parents of DACA recipients who will now be subject to deportation. Family unity is one of the bedrock principles of DACA. I hope President Trump and the law enforcement agencies will exercise restraint and positive prosecutorial discretion to preserve family unity.”
Valera said undocumented parents of 2012 DACA recipients, as well as the undocumented parents of children who are U.S. citizens or green card holders (permanent residents), are at risk of removal (deportation). “They need to consult immediately with U.S.-Licensed Immigration Attorneys,” he stressed.
He also advised affected Asians, Hispanics and other minorities to beware of unscrupulous persons taking advantage of the confusing situation. “If you have questions or concerns, please consult a licensed immigration attorney or an accredited Non-Governmental Organization or NGO with an in-house attorney,” he stressed. “Notary Publics and so-called Immigration Consultants are not authorized by law to give legal advice. To do so is an unauthorized practice of law and constitutes a criminal offense.”
DACA recipients are called Dreamers, referring to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. For years, lawmakers kept filing and re-filing the DREAM Act in the U.S. Congress to no avail, prompting Obama to issue executive orders on DACA.
Under the requirements of the 2012 DACA Executive Order, applicants:
- Must have arrived in the U.S. before age 16;
- Must have continuously resided in the U.S. without legal status since June 15, 2007;
- Must be less than age 31 as of June 15, 2012 and at least age 15 at application (undocumented immigrants under 15 in removal proceedings are also eligible to apply);
- Must be currently enrolled in school, have graduated high school or obtained a general development certificate (GED), or be an honorably discharged veteran; and
- Must not have been convicted of a felony or multiple or serious misdemeanors and not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
During his administration, Obama issued two DACA Executive Orders. The first was issued in August 2012. The second DACA, or DACA+ (DACA Plus), issued in November 2014, was not implemented.
Last year, several states brought suits against DACA+, and a case reached the Supreme Court. The nine-member Supreme Court had a vacancy after the demise of Justice Antonin Scalia, and it deadlocked on a 4-4 vote on DACA+. The tied vote thus left the ruling of the federal court in place (stopping the implementation of DACA+). This did not affect those who have applied under the 2012 DACA, however, because only the 2014 DACA+ was brought before the Supreme Court.