Trump Leaves Young Immigrants’ Futures in Congressional GOP’s Hands

"It’s a lot to process. But they won’t instill fear in me. I won’t crawl back into the shadows. We won’t crawl back into the shadows."

DACA allowed many of its recipients to attend college for the first time, obtain employment in their chosen fields, earn a living wage, access health care, and drive without fear of detainment and deportation. Lauryn Gutierrez / Rewire

The Trump administration on Tuesday rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), meaning that the 800,000 young people protected by DACA will lose their social security numbers, work permits, and driver’s licenses without congressional action. These young immigrants could soon be subject to deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) won’t take DACA applications after Tuesday, according to information distributed during a DHS press call. DHS won’t take away DACA status from anyone who has it right now. 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Trump’s decision during a press briefing Tuesday, saying there would be a “wind-down process” undertaken by DHS, giving Congress time to pass legislation benefitting DACA recipients. That’s easier said than done.

Prerna Lal, an attorney and longtime member of the immigrant rights movement who fought for the DREAM Act and created Dream Activist, the largest social media hub for immigrant rights, said passing immigration legislation through Congress is nearly impossible.

“Makes me wonder if [Donald Trump] would just veto a bill that comes to his desk anyway and killing DACA is just a smokescreen for hate,” Lal tweeted. “I also want to note that the DREAM Act is originally a Republican idea; it plays into the good/bad immigrant narrative, and it is divisive.” 

DACA allowed many of its recipients to attend college for the first time, obtain employment in their chosen fields, earn a living wage, access health care, and drive without fear of detainment and deportation. According to a 2015 survey of DACA recipients, 65 percent of respondents were in school; of these, 70 percent were also working. Sixty-nine percent reported moving to a job with better pay; 57 percent reported moving to a job that better fit their education and training; and 54 percent reported moving to a job with better working conditions. Sixty-two percent said the pay increase helped them become financially independent, while 57 percent reported that it helped them financially care for their families. 

This was echoed by the DACA recipients profiled by Rewire in anticipation of Trump ending the immigration program. Many DACA recipients are in mixed-status families and reported that they were the sole breadwinner in their family and were helping their undocumented parents buy their first home.

Daniela Rojas, a DACA recipient who lives in Texas, said in a statement Tuesday that Trump’s decision to end the program has thrown her life into uncertainty with no end.

“As one of the 800,000 DACA recipients who were able to go to school, find stable jobs, and obtain a driver’s license, I am devastated by the decision of President Donald Trump to end the DACA program. I am a proud student at the University of Texas at Austin and have been planning to go to law school,” said Rojas, who has lived in the United States for 11 years. “I work part-time to help cover the costs of my education and to provide for my family. Now my dreams of becoming a lawyer and advocate for my community are put in limbo. Now, I risk deportation and separation from my friends, family and the country I call home.”

On August 25, NBC News reported that Trump was leaning toward ending the Obama-era immigration program as a September deadline loomed. Initially, Republican attorneys general from ten states, plus the governor of Idaho, instructed the White House to end DACA by September 5, otherwise they would sue the administration. On September 1, Tennessee’s attorney general Herbert Slatery removed himself from any possible litigation, writing “there is a better approach.”

But Trump will have another lawsuit on his hands for ending DACA. On Monday, New York and Washington state vowed to sue Trump for ending the program.

Trump initially said he would treat DACA with “great heart,” implying he would let the program continue. But during the first eight months of his presidency, Trump has been unable to accomplish many of his campaign promises, including his biggest: “building the wall,” or expanding the heavily militarized southern border between the United States and Mexico.

“Instead of putting young people on a pathway to citizenship, the President’s heartless act today forces immigrant children into the shadows of our society based solely on their immigrant status,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Reversing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program renders undocumented people targets for unscrupulous employers, wage theft and other abuses in the workplace, and weakens the economic well-being of their families, including their citizen spouses, siblings and offspring.  It is also a cruel example of how the current Administration’s advancement of policies that promote racial and ethnic profiling and xenophobia have further emboldened white nationalists, who have a history of contributing to a climate of fear and hate.”

Trump initially promised his voters Mexico would pay for the wall, something Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has adamantly denied. Instead, Trump has had to turn to Congress for funding. The president barred transgender people from serving in the military in order to gain funding for 70 miles of border wall, and it appears this time, Trump is using DACA recipients as a bargaining chip for additional wall funding. 

“Donald Trump’s top aides are pushing him to protect young people brought into the country illegally as children — and then use the issue as a bargaining chip for a larger immigration deal,” McClatchy reported on August 22. “The White House officials want Trump to strike an ambitious deal with Congress that offers Dreamers protection in exchange for legislation that pays for a border wall and more detention facilities, curbs legal immigration and implements E-verify, an online system that allows businesses to check immigration status.”

Trump’s maneuvering does not take into account that removing DACA for 800,000 young people, who have primarily used the program to obtain legal employment, could prove injurious to the U.S. economy.

DACA recipients contribute $2 billion a year in state and local taxes. Repealing DACA will reduce estimated state and local revenues by nearly $800 million, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Every year, undocumented immigrants have collectively paid as much as $13 billion into the system and are largely responsible for the stability of Social Security, according to an MSNBC report.

Now that DACA is ending, the United States will likely see a hike in unemployment. According to a study by the Center for American Progress and FWD.us, for every business day that DACA renewals are put on hold, more than 1,400 DACA recipients will lose their ability to work and could be let go by employers. An average of 30,000 people will be out of work each month once DACA is repealed. This would “put significant pressure on employers to fill holes in their workforce,” CNN reported. “Using the most conservative estimates, ending DACA would impose massive costs on employers—nearly $2 billion over two years.”

Trump’s decision to end DACA could threaten national security, according to the Center for Immigration Integrity. Margaret Stock, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, has argued that immigrants are a vital asset to the Department of Defense. Stock created the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program in 2008, which allows the military to recruit immigrants with in-demand skills. Through the program, hundreds of DACA recipients joined the military, and with the end of DACA, these young people can now be deported.

DACA has had a tumultuous existence. Twenty-six states, led by Republican officials in Texas, sued the Obama administration over the program, turning it from a three-year program into a two-year program.

Lawsuits halted Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) from coming to fruition. DAPA would have provided the same benefits as DACA to undocumented parents with U.S. citizen children. While President Obama has been lauded for implementing DACA, it should be noted that the administrative relief only came about because of the organizing efforts of young, undocumented immigrants.

An immediate concern expressed by DACA recipients is not the removal of the temporary status, which means they are once again unauthorized to be in the United States. DACA recipients who spoke to Rewire said they have been undocumented before and they can do it again. Rather, it’s the fact that the Trump administration, which has been vehemently anti-immigrant, now has a database containing the personal, identifying information of 800,000 young people, information that can be used to target them for deportation. For its part, DHS has said it would not “proactively” use that data to deport DACA recipients, according to reports.

“It doesn’t hurt anyone to allow us to have DACA, and now we are priorities for deportation. That’s something I am fearful of,” said Nanci Palacios, an organizer from Florida. “The administration—because of DACA—has my data; they have my personal information and the information of every DACA recipient. It’s a lot to process. But they won’t instill fear in me. I won’t crawl back into the shadows. We won’t crawl back into the shadows.”