But any legislation that would codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into law has been kicked down the road, launching the already contentious DACA debate into overtime. Democrats and Republicans are now looking to attach something, literally anything, to a must-sign budget bill that has to pass by the end of March if the government wants to keep the lights on.
The trouble with this strategy is that Congress is blindly trusting that court decisions invalidating Trump’s March 5 deadline for DACA legislation ― a date he set back in September ― will keep Immigration and Customs Enforcement from retaliating against DACA beneficiaries whose permits have expired and are in the process of being renewed.
And that is a big mistake.
Every day Congress fails to protect Dreamers is another day where the issue becomes even more complicated.
Tom Homan, the acting ICE director, has repeatedly said that any and all undocumented immigrants in the United States should look over their shoulders. That is a severe threat from a man who is “enjoying” deporting immigrants. We should take his comments at face value, given that his ICE agents are running like around like cowboys, arresting and detaining immigrants as if we were the wild, wild West.
The Department of Homeland Security has already stripped some Dreamers of their DACA protections, while others faced arrest and detention after speaking against ICE agents at press conferences as their DACA renewals were being processed. ICE has recently gone after several prominent immigration activists, sparking a debate on whether the agency is actively retaliating against some of its biggest critics and opponents.
That is why Congress must stop moving at a glacial pace on the DACA debate, because every day that it fails to protect Dreamers is another day where the issue becomes more complicated.
Last week, the Supreme Court refused a request from the Department of Justice that it immediately rule on the administration’s authority to end DACA. Attorney General Jeff Sessions actually sought to skip over two different legal battles in the U.S. Court of Appeals in an attempt to have the Supreme Court rule on the issue. While the Supreme Court’s action further extends the time Dreamers have to renew their DACA benefits, it takes away some of the urgency for Congress to adopt legislation on the matter.
Separately, DACA renewals continue to pile on the desks of the slow-moving bureaucrats at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ― you know, that agency under the Department of Homeland Security that recently axed the phrase ”nation of immigrants″ from its current mission statement. Their slow-walking on DACA renewals leaves Dreamers vulnerable to Homan’s unchained ICE agents, since a pending renewal application does not shield applicants from arrest or detention.
You can bet that ICE will try to use every trick in its cruel book to detain Dreamers at any chance it gets.
It is crucial that Dreamers, and every single person who supports them, stay alert for the next couple of weeks ― and possibly the remainder of the year.
There is no definitive timeline on when, or if, the Supreme Court will take up any case Sessions’ DOJ is trying to build against the DACA program and its beneficiaries. It could be a couple of months or not until the beginning of 2019, giving DACA beneficiaries an additional lifeline when it comes to renewing their work permits and driver’s licenses.
That means that DACA beneficiaries will need encouragement and resources ― meaning money ― to complete their DACA applications. If you know a DACA beneficiary, reach out and ask what they need to renew their application in a timely fashion. Bear in mind that Dreamers still face risks even if they renew under DACA, and that they will also be in need of your unconditional support.
There are no signs that ICE will slow down its mass deportation operations, and you can bet that it will try to use every trick in its cruel book to detain Dreamers at any chance it gets.
Trump’s March 5 deadline on DACA may have lost its meaning given recent events, but that doesn’t mean that Customs and Border Protection, ICE and local law enforcement agencies don’t have the date circled on their calendar like a federal holiday. And that is why you, my dear reader, cannot afford to be distracted on the subject of DACA. The fight to protect young immigrants continues, even as Congress and the president put off enacting protections for the aspiring Americans we know as Dreamers.
Juan Escalante is an immigrant advocate and online strategist who has been fighting for the Dream Act and pro-immigration policies at all levels of government for the past 10 years.