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Continue DACA, Asian American Advocates Urge President Trump

By Jennie L. Ilustre

Asian American advocates are urging President Trump to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, following administration announcement in mid-June that the program remains in effect pending review, while permanently ending the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA).

DACA, began in 2012 through an Executive Order by President Obama, allows adults who entered the country without authorization as children and minors to live and work in the U.S., provided they do not have a criminal record and they pass a background check. DAPA, which was never implemented, would have granted similar benefits to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

John Yang
John C. Yang, Asian Americans Advancing Justice|AAJC President and Executive Director

Asian Americans Advancing Justice|AAJC President and Executive Director John C. Yang said in an email interview on June 19: “The administration must state unequivocally that the DACA program will continue. Although new applications for DACA are being accepted, the administration seems to invite confusion intentionally by giving contradictory statements about the program’s future.”

Eric Macalma, Region 2 Chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), said on June 21: “We are encouraged by President Trump’s comment, made within days after assuming office, that he wants this issue to be addressed ‘with compassion and heart.’”

“We urge him to continue DACA,” he added. “DACA has helped children and minors who unknowingly came here with parents or elders without authorization. As adults, these youth have become productive members of society, because the program grants them work permits on a renewable basis.”

On June 22, Yves Gomes, APALA National Executive Board Member and UFCW Local 400 member, denounced the announcement: “Although the administration claims that the DACA program will remain in effect, we cannot trust anything this administration says. Examples of DACA-mented individuals being detained and deported serve as a reminder that no immigrant is safe under this present administration.”

DACA does not grant citizenship, legal status or even a green card, although it is renewable every two years. It covers approximately 740,000 young people. Of this number, about 32,000 immigrants come from four Asian countries. As candidate, Trump promised to end the program. But after his inauguration as president, he said he would find a way to treat it with “compassion and heart,” resulting in outrage from his supporters.

The Department of Homeland Security clarified on June 16 that the DACA guidance it posted a day earlier did not have any bearing on the future of the program. It was, however, definite on the decision ending DAPA. DAPA extended similar benefits to parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents (green card holders). Blocked by the Supreme Court in June last year, it was never implemented.


DACA Good for Economy

Raul A. Reyes, a lawyer and member of the USA Today newspaper’s board of contributors, wrote in a CNN opinion piece on June 16 that the DACA recipients – called DREAMers, named after a failed legislation – are productive members of society. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced in the U.S. Congress in 2001. Its repeated failure to pass in Congress led to Obama’s decision to issue Executive Orders instead.

Reyes wrote that it makes sound economic sense for President Trump to continue DACA. “DACA grantees are attending college, becoming entrepreneurs and fully integrating into society. A 2016 study by the Center for American Progress found that DACA had a positive economic impact on its recipients – and on the overall economy.”

In January, Politico, a top newspaper in the nation’s capital, reported that Trump was sympathetic toward DREAMers in an interview with Time magazine. It quoted Senator Dick Durbin (D, Illinois), as being told by Trump he would find a way that is “fair” in accommodating the DACA recipients. Durbin had thanked Trump on inauguration day for his comments on the DREAMers. Politico also quoted Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York as saying he was “personally just confident knowing President Trump is a compassionate individual,” adding he didn’t see DACA at the top of Trump’s agenda.


Alvina Yeh
Alvin Yeh, Asia Pacific American Labor Alliance AFL-CIO (APALA) Executive Director

Still, the administration’s recent actions and the uncertainty of DACA’s future do not sit well with advocates. Alvina Yeh, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership & Advancement, said in an email on June 20: “In light of the administration’s decision last week to revoke DAPA, we will continue to resist and organize our communities to fight back against the administration’s mass deportation agenda, which continues to tear thousands of families apart and criminalize our communities.”

Yeh, who recently succeeded Greg Cendana at APALA, said current recipients should be informed of their rights and should “seek legal consultation when applying for, or renewing their DACA status.” Yeh has experience in working with state-based coalitions on program management, strategic planning, and organizational development, from her previous post as Director of State Capacity Building with State Voices.


Nation of Immigrants

Observed Yang, who recently succeeded Mee Moua as the new Asian Americans Advancing Justice|AAJC President and Executive Director: “We are disappointed but not surprised that the administration has decided to end the DAPA program. In words and deeds, this administration has sought to vilify and criminalize immigrants. The administration has an apparent unwillingness to recognize that this country largely is a nation of immigrants, and that immigration has been a source of the nation’s strength, vitality, innovation, and growth.  DAPA is simply the latest example.”

Yang, an experienced attorney with over two decades of policy, litigation, and corporate expertise, stressed that all affiliates of Asian Americans Advancing Justice have been advocating in support of continuing the DACA program. “Advancing Justice | AAJC has been deeply involved with meetings with members of the U.S. Congress and with outreach efforts to stress the importance of this program.”

Advancing Justice|AAJC is part of a national affiliation of five civil rights partners, including Advancing Justice–Chicago; Advancing Justice–Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco; Advancing Justice–Los Angeles, and Advancing Justice–Atlanta.

Johanna Puno Hester, APALA National President and Assistant Executive Director of the United Domestic Workers, AFSCME Local 3930 said the DAPA termination “breaks my heart that the 3.5 million undocumented parents who could have benefited from this program now have no hope and must continue to live in heightened fear in this country.” She added that APALA is committed to “fighting for our communities on the streets, in the courtrooms, and at the ballot box, to ensure our communities’ right to stay in this country.”

APALA AFL-CIO was founded in 1992 as “the first and only national organization for Asian American and Pacific Islander union members to advance worker, immigrant and civil rights.”

Remarked Migrant Heritage Commission Executive Director Arnedo S. Valera: “Sadly, the DAPA termination will result in the breaking up of families. This is not the American way. America is a Nation of Immigrants – always was and always will be.”

“But today’s prevailing mood, it seems, points to America that will slam the door shut – to immigrants, and even to exchange scholars, visiting entrepreneurs and innovators that for decades have helped make this country the world’s No. 1,” he stressed. “Imagine if America had turned away genius refugees like Nobel Prize awardee Einstein. Last year alone, all six of America’s Nobel Prize winners were immigrants, awarded for making contributions to the advancement of mankind. And let’s not forget several immigrants who are Pulitzer Prize winners.”

The Republican National Committee noted that immigrants “have undeniably made great contributions to our country,” but added that any national immigration policy must put the interests of citizens first. “To start, our border must be absolutely secured and illegal immigration must be stopped. Then, and only then, can we begin reforming our system in a way that lets new immigrants experience the American Dream without causing economic hardships to American citizens.”


Immigrant Rights

In the U.S. Congress, senators have prepared a bill to address the DACA issue, in case President Trump does not renew the Executive Order. Advancing Justice | AAJC Executive Director Yang said it is working in coalition with other immigrant rights advocates, and it has also been meeting regularly with members of Congress on this issue.

Remarked Yang: “While we commend the bipartisan efforts on the Bridge Act, we are more interested in a permanent solution for DACA recipients and other undocumented people and legislative fixes that will protect immigrants more generally. We would oppose using this legislation as a vehicle to reduce immigrants’ rights in other areas.”

Migrant Heritage Commission Executive Director Valera underscored the importance of legislation. “Executive Orders expire when a new President is elected, unless they are renewed,” he said in an interview. “What we need is immigration reform legislation, and it must be realistic as well as humane, because it will become part of our nation’s laws. America is known for its adherence to justice and fair play, as well as its fundamental sense of human decency.”

Advancing Justice leaders stress both executive and legislative actions on national, as well as state and local levels, must address the urgent need to overhaul immigration policies and programs “that separate families, contradict our nation’s values, and simply don’t make sense.” Advancing Justice is focused on a wide range of issues. These are: A path to naturalization, family re-unification and keeping families together, immigration enforcement and racial profiling, due process rights, detention standards, removal and repatriation regulations and anti-immigrant state and local legislation.