Is the Dream Dying?

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has issued several executive orders (EOs) that have affected our country’s immigration policies and regardless of one’s political leanings, many can agree that these EOs have resulted in significant impact on our communities. One area of immigration that President Trump has spoken on is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was created through EO by former President Obama, to shield undocumented children who were brought to the United States unlawfully from being deported. To date, as many as 800,000 people currently have DACA status.

Since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications, thousands of DACA recipients have been able to attend college, buy houses and cars, and obtain better paying jobs. An October 2016 survey of DACA recipients found that 87% of recipients, or 650,000 individuals, are currently working within the U.S. According to a study by the Center for American Progress, if Trump were to eliminate DACA (forcing the roughly 650,000 individuals to leave the U.S. workforce), the U.S. would suffer a GDP loss of $433.4 billion over a decade, and reduce Social Security and Medicare tax contributions by $24.6 billion.

As part of his campaign platform, President Trump pledged to end DACA and this seemed highly likely, especially after a draft EO, “Ending Unconstitutional Executive Amnesties,” was leaked to the press. This EO would have rescinded the 2012 DACA EO issued by former President Obama by: prohibiting the approval of initial and renewal DACA applications; allowing current employment authorization documents (EADs) to remain valid until expiration; and ending the issuance of Advance Parole (travel authorization) to DACA recipients. To date, however, this EO has not been signed and for a while, President Trump’s stance on DACA softened, with him acknowledging the difficult situation in DACA recipients are in and expressing some compassion to those helped by DACA.

Recently, however, with the confluence of two issues, numerous reputable media outlets have reported that President Trump is again seriously considering terminating the DACA program due to two challenges. The first issue arose on June 29, 2017, when the State Attorney Generals of Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia issued an ultimatum to the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, demanding that the Trump Administration rescind the DACA program by September 5th or face a lawsuit challenging the program in court. Attorney General Sessions has publicly supported termination of the DACA program, advocating for Congress to introduce legislation if it wished to continue the protection provided by DACA.

The second issue has arisen as a potential government shutdown looms in September due to Congress’ failure to secure a new budget and the increase in the debt ceiling. In the past week, during several speeches, President Trump has threatened to reject any budget that does not include funding for a wall on the U.S. southern border, another campaign promise. Moreover, as leaks continue to plague the White House, rumors have increased that the Administration may seek to use status of DACA recipients (also known as Dreamers) and continuity of the DACA program as leverage to obtain not only funding for the wall but also the immigration reforms proposed in the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act.

While we agree that immigration reform is needed, we believe that leveraging the future and well-being of innocent individuals who were brought into the United States illegally as children in order to strong-arm legislation and budgets establishes a very bad precedent and is particularly contrary to the fundamental principles and ideals upon which our Country was founded. The President must find a way to get legislation passed, reform our immigration system, and protect our borders, but must also consider the abundance of positive benefits that foreign nationals in general and DACA recipients specifically bring to the country especially in terms of the arts, entertainment, research and science, innovation and entrepreneurship. Immigration reform that can make America greater balances national security along with sound public policy based on pragmatism and empathy. These are not comp interests, nor are they mutually exclusive.

Until further action is taken with regard to the DACA program, it is important for current and future DACA recipients to understand the potential consequences of filing for DACA. First, it is important to understand that by applying for DACA, an applicant is making him/herself visible to the government and providing the government with personal information including, most importantly, his/her home address. Though the current policy states that this information may only be shared with national security and law enforcement agencies for purposes other than to remove, this section could be amended by the current Administration in a manner that could expose DACA recipients to enforcement and removal proceedings. This should be considered prior to filing an initial DACA application. For those who have already applied for DACA, the government is already in possession of their information and therefore, by filing a renewal, applicants are not creating any additional risk.

We do not know how future reforms will impact the DACA program, if at all. However any individual seeking to benefit from DACA should speak with an experienced attorney concerning his/her specific circumstances. Consultation with an experienced attorney is essential in order to determine both eligibility for DACA and also the consequences of applying for DACA and placing one’s self on the government’s radar.

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