On August 15, members of the National Korean American Service and Educational Consortium (NAKASEC), a grassroots organization aimed to help Korean and Asian Americans achieve social, economic, and racial justice, began staging a round-the-clock vigil outside the Oval Office. Their aim: to raise awareness of just who benefits from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) and the temporary protected status (TPS) program.
“You want to see who you’ll be harming or deporting if you take DACA away, just look out your front window,” said Becky Belcore, co-executive director of NAKASEC Chicago, told Rewire at the vigil.
The vigil has drawn as many as 30 people at a time, including DACA recipients, their parents (both documented and undocumented), and their supporters. The crowd has also included representatives from other major immigrant advocacy organizations, such as United We Dream, the Franciscan Action Network, and the UndocuBlack Network. The group is set to remain at the White House until the Trump administration announces its decision on whether to rescind DACA, which is expected by September 5.
The Obama-era initiative, which granted temporary protection to eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States as children, if rescinded, would affect an estimated 800,000 young people who can now legally work, drive, and most importantly not fear deportation in the United States.
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However, it is not just DACA recipients who would lose out. According to 2016 estimates from the Center for American Progress, ending DACA would reduce the nation’s GDP by $433.4 billion over the next decade. A further study, released that same year by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, estimated that employers would incur losses of $3.4 billion in turnover costs, and that Medicare and Social Security contributions would be cut by $24.6 billion over ten years.
Support for DACA has poured in from all over, most recently from top tech executives, who in an open letter published Thursday evening asserted that DACA recipients are critical to the future of U.S. companies.
“With them, we grow and create jobs,” the letter—signed by the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Cisco, Amazon, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, among others—stated. “They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage.”
Furthermore, a new NBC/SurveyMonkey poll found that nearly two-thirds of respondents support DACA. This backs up survey findings in late April from Morning Consult, a nonpartisan digital media and survey research company, suggesting nearly 80 percent of registered voters said DACA recipients should be allowed to remain in the United States.
In an attempt to build on that momentum, all vigil participants have been canvassing for signatures to support the petition they plan to present to the White House, urging Congress and the president to keep DACA and pass the Dream Act, a legislative bill that would provide minors who arrived in the United States with a legal pathway to citizenship.
“Every day we meet hundreds of people who walk by the White House—many are fellow Americans—and the vast majority support protecting DACA and TPS, and are for signing our petition to the White House,” Belcore said to Rewire.
TPS, temporary protection given to individuals from countries where it is unsafe to return, must be extended every six months, leaving many migrants in limbo as they do not know whether the Department of Homeland Security will offer an extension. Haitian immigrants with TPS may, for example, be forced to leave in January.
Vigil attendees say community and faith leaders have been an essential resource, with the Lutheran Place Memorial Church donating its hostel to all participants for the full 22 days, alongside daily food donations. Live streaming of the vigil takes place in half-hour increments from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., on NAKASEC’s website and Facebook page.
NAKASEC members say that most immigration reform movements in the United States have generally been associated with the Latino community; the vigil, they explain, aims to make all immigrant backgrounds more visible through its partnerships.
“We are trying to show that this is not just one group, it is all immigrant groups together,” Belcore told Rewire. “If we don’t protect our future generations, what’s going to become of us?”
Many of the older Korean NAKASEC vigil participants echoed that sentiment. They felt as if DACA were taken away, the “American Dream” they immigrated for would, in many ways, be permanently altered for future generations.
While the vast majority of the vigil’s experience has been positive, Sumi Yi, a community organizer for NAKASEC Virginia, explained that the vigil is not without its down moments.
“Several days ago we heard rumors that the president had officially decided to cancel DACA,” Yi said. “We all felt helplessly heartbroken, before realizing they were only rumors.”
Trump’s next moves on DACA indeed seem murky, making it hard to tell rumors from fact. He first made its repeal a key campaign promise; then, in late April, he sent a different message, telling the Associated Press that the young people covered by the program could “rest easy” because his priority was deporting “criminals”—which, as advocates have explained, could mean any undocumented person under his administration.
On Thursday, Fox News reported that Trump will end the program. According to the White House, however, a decision is still being made: “This has been a very lengthy review and it’s certainly not over. It’s something that is still being discussed and a final decision hasn’t been made,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.
Currently, ten Republican state attorney generals have threatened to file a legal challenge to the program if it isn’t rescinded by September 5.
Of the four people who are staying throughout the entire vigil, one of those is Ms. Kim, who declined to provide her first name. A permanent resident through her U.S.-born son, Kim came all the way from Orange County, California, to support her 25-year-old daughter, a DACA recipient. Her daughter was working back in California and unable to attend.
To Kim, DACA represents her daughter’s ability to be independent and live a normal life. “I want to do anything I can to protect and support my daughter,” she said, speaking via a translator to Rewire. “If that means being here for 22 days, I’ll be here for 22 days.”