Many local residents are likely struggling to understand the impact of the now–announced end of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, to be enforced starting in March 2018. DACA is an executive action taken in 2012 by President Barack Obama after the failure of Congressional efforts to pass immigration reform laws. DACA granted deferred action on deportation for young people who qualified under many stipulations (like being at least 15 years of age at the time of applying for the program, having entered the U.S. before age 16, being enrolled in high school, or having graduated from school or gotten a certificate of graduation). DACA recipients also must not have committed serious crimes and have undergone a thorough background check; that is, they are law-abiding people with dreams, goals, worries and challenges much like millions of other residents of this country.
Over the past five years, nearly 800,000 young people have received a temporary stay, been eligible to work and thus have lived relatively without fear of being suddenly uprooted and arrested and/or deported to a country they have never known or that they fear going to, for one reason or another. In many cases, this does not mean that they have not lived without fear for the fate of their relatives and friends who are among the hundreds of thousands of other undocumented people who contribute to the economy and to the social and cultural fabric of this country that have not been eligible for this program.
Though the delayed implementation of the policy gives the Trump administration more time to deal with political opposition from citizens and from political actors across a wide range of political stances, the end of DACA is of tremendous concern since it will lead to an uncertain immigration or residence status for thousands of young people, many of whom study and work at Ithaca College, Cornell University, TC3 and other higher educational institutions and local high schools. It will leave hundreds of our local residents unprotected from immigration enforcement actions that are occurring across the country. This represents a tremendous problem, since immigration officials could easily find DACA students and access their personal information and address if they have a court order, warrant or subpoena, regardless of whether university administrators or student groups have declared sanctuary campus status.
DACA status will end by the expiration date of each person’s deferred action, which lasts two years. It puts young people in the dire situation of having to live in limbo, not knowing whether their jobs and the financial aid that often enable them to study are at risk of ending. Many students and their families at IC and Cornell or elsewhere have invested thousands of dollars in an education that they hoped would open opportunities for their future, and now that time, money and energy could be lost. The government could ask for the work permits back immediately, meaning that young people could stay in the country until their DACA expires but not be eligible to work. This is also a huge problem, as many students pay their tuition and contribute to family expenses with part-time or full-time jobs they have while they go to school.
The announcement is heart-wrenching indeed. It may spur forward a push for reform of immigration laws that thousands of documented and undocumented youth have called for over their many years of courageous organizing. The Dream Act 2017, as well as other bills, are still on the table in Congress, waiting for enough bipartisan support to be considered as alternatives to the government’s deportation machine. The recent announcement by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) of a possible discharge petition to force a House vote on the Bridge Act (House Resolution 496) is encouraging, but it does not offer a path to citizenship and a long-term resolution to the legal limbo of hundreds of thousands of young people who have arrived here as minors and who seek a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities. Instead, for instance, the Dream Act offers conditional permanent status, the possibility of lawful permanent status, and citizenship over the long term.
Here is a helpful document prepared by the National Immigration Law Center delineating the different bills in Congress.
Long-term solutions that reflect the root-causes of migration are needed. Communities, college and university administrators can come together in solidarity and with strong activist and policy stances to defend young members of our community protected under DACA.
The Rapid Response Network of the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition was recently formed to respond to incidents of arrest, detainment and/or deportation of local residents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Border Patrol or other immigration agents. The goal of the RR team is whenever possible to observe and document in cases of uprooting of residents from our communities and to provide know-your-rights support to those who call the hotline if they are confronted by immigration officials. A formal announcement of the hotline number and related information will be done later this week, and if you have questions or want to join the Network, please go to the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition website for more.