The Trump Administration officially announced plans on Tuesday to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era policy that protected young undocumented immigrants from deportation, on the condition that they were pursuing education and free of any serious crimes.
The deferrals under DACA lasted for two years and were subject to continuous renewal. However, DACA did not offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 bars immigrants from returning to the country to seek legal status for three and ten year periods depending on their length of time spent in the country.
The lack of a path for citizenship may have been a shortcoming of DACA, but the executive action protected over 800,000 people from deportation. It also encouraged undocumented immigrants to pursue educational opportunities and be productive members of the country, as it granted them opportunities for employment authorization.
The decision by President Donald Trump to rescind the 2012 executive order has sent the immigrant community into disarray, with many fearing for their future once their individual deferrals expire. Proponents of DACA have amassed for a series of protests and demonstrations across the county in an effort to try to convince lawmakers to either overturn the decision or pass legislation that would have similar protections for Dreamers.
Abraham Cepeda, an immigration lawyer for the Cultura Law firm in Berks County, questioned the Trump Administration’s argument that DACA threatened “rule of law” in the country, believing it to be a false way of framing the issue.
“I think it is a horrible decision and the reasoning they used was false. DACA was a use of prosecutorial discretion and was not a constitutional overreach the way they tried to frame it to the public,” Cepeda said. “Obviously, as president, he has the authority to rescind the program either way, but he tried to wrap himself in the law and that was not accurate.”
Cepeda believes the move will have a devastating impact on the immigrant community, causing fear and instability throughout the country as immigrants panic in the face of increased enforcement.
“First, it will instill fear and uncertainty to the 800,000 [people] who have DACA but also to people in other temporary statuses,” Cepeda said.
The most damaging effects, according to Cepeda, will come on the enforcement end as ICE officers gain access to information on noncitizen whereabouts that will aid in the deportation process.
“After that initial effect, the real effect will come when DACA recipients’ work permits start to expire and they start to lose their jobs and homes,” he said. “Even worse, after the protections expire it is very likely that ICE will target former DACA recipients for deportation because they have all the information on their whereabouts, and their mandate is to deport as many people as possible.”
Cepeda and the immigrant community are taking steps to protect DACA recipients in the six months before the repeal of DACA goes into effect. Members of both the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition are urging both citizens and lawmakers to get behind the proposed bipartisan DREAM Act of 2017, that would put similar protections in place for noncitizens in the U.S.
The DREAM Act of 2017 would grant conditional permanent resident status to undocumented immigrants who meet many of the same requirements that DACA set forth. It would protect DACA recipients, as well as immigrants pursuing a variety of educational opportunities, including early childhood education, elementary education, secondary education and higher education.
The conditional status granted to immigrants by the DREAM Act would be for a period of eight years, rather than the two years that DACA ensured undocumented immigrants. The bill would also offer a path to citizenship for immigrants who meet certain educational and work requirements.
Cepeda said he is advising DACA recipients to open businesses if they have a trade, or for those who rent to consider relocating prior to their card’s expiration date. He suggests that those who relocate don’t leave a forwarding address with their post office.
With the absence of DACA looming, Cepeda is urging clients to explore other immigration protections.
“I am advising DACA recipients to get screened for other immigration possibilities in their case,” he said. “For those whose cards are about to expire, I recommend renewing their work permits before the October 5th deadline.”