Trump won’t deport Dreamers for now — but their parents are screwed
The Trump administration has a new policy on undocumented immigrants: If you’re young and protected from deportation by President Obama, you can stay in the U.S. for now. But your parents and family members aren’t welcome.
The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday rescinded two Obama-era initiatives that sought to shield some undocumented parents of U.S. citizens from deportation and expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows certain people who came to the U.S. illegally as children to stay and work in the country. DACA, which was created by Obama in 2012 and covers more than 760,000 young people, remains in effect.
Obama’s program for parents, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), was challenged by 26 states and blocked by a federal court in Texas. The Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on the case, allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand. A lawsuit over the case is still ongoing, but Homeland Security said Thursday “there is no credible path forward to litigate,” which means the government plans to stop defending DAPA and proposed changes to DACA that would have allowed more young people to qualify.
The move was met with mixed reactions from Dreamers and immigrant rights advocates. On one hand, Trump decided to leave DACA untouched, seemingly breaking his campaign pledge to overturn Obama’s “illegal” executive actions on immigration. But the move also signals that Trump still intends to deport as many people as possible.
“It doesn’t mean we’re safe. It just means at the moment we’re not the primary target,” — Justino Mora
“We shouldn’t get comfortable just because the administration says they’ll keep DACA or they’re not going to take your work permit,” said Justino Mora, a DACA recipient and co-founder of the pro-immigrant advocacy group UndocuMedia. “It doesn’t mean we’re safe. It just means at the moment we’re not the primary target.”
Legal experts warned that DACA could also be in legal jeopardy. Homeland Security said DACA recipients “will continue to be eligible” to renew their status every two years, and that “no work permits will be terminated prior to their current expiration dates.” But David Rivkin Jr., the lawyer who represented the states during their Supreme Court challenge of Obama’s executive actions, told VICE News that “DACA is just as legally vulnerable as DAPA.”
The primary basis of the legal challenge to DAPA was that the Obama administration didn’t go through the proper rulemaking process, and Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School, pointed out that Trump is essentially following suit with the decision to stop defending DAPA and keep the original DACA program in place.
“The administration is doing the same thing, acting in this very informal way to tell the world what their policy is,” Benson said. “It’s very ironic. In a way it’s almost as vulnerable as Obama’s move was to litigation.”
“DACA is just as legally vulnerable as DAPA.” — David Rivkin Jr.
The timing of the Homeland Security announcement was also conspicuous. Thursday was the fifth anniversary of DACA’s implementation, and the 35th anniversary of Plyler v. Doe, a landmark Supreme Court case that says students cannot be denied free public education because of their immigration status.
“This administration seems to be completely tone deaf to civil rights history,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and one of the attorneys who defended DAPA in the Supreme Court. “I just wonder what the administration’s intentions are.”
Trump repeatedly vowed to repeal DACA when he was on the campaign trail, alleging that Obama had “defied federal law and the constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants.” A draft executive order to repeal DACA leaked shortly after Trump’s inauguration in January but he never followed through. One of the president’s first moves in office, however, was to sign an executive order that made virtually everyone who is in the country without authorization a priority for deportation.
Immigration arrests have soared under Trump, but at the same time he has tried to reassure Dreamers — who wield significant political clout — that they shouldn’t worry about getting deported. In January he said DACA recipients had “nothing to worry about” and that he was looking at “the whole immigration situation… with great heart.”
“The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me as I love these kids,” Trump said in a February press conference. “I love kids, I have kids and grand kids and I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and, you know, the law is rough. It’s rough, very very rough.”
But despite Trump’s reassurances, there have been several recent cases where DACA recipients were either detained by immigration authorities or deported. Data obtained by VICE News last month also revealed that DACA revocations due to alleged criminal activity increased more than 25 percent in the first three months of Trump’s presidency compared to the same period in 2016.
“The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me as I love these kids.” — President Trump
“The president has talked a big game about how he loves kids and Dreamers and yada yada yada, but at the same time we’re seeing DACA being revoked and people being deported without due process,” said Kamal Essaheb, policy and advocacy director for the National Immigration Law Center.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-immigrant group that is influential with the Trump administration, applauded Thursday’s move, announcing that the president had kept his pledge to reverse “Obama’s illegal and unconstitutional attempt to grant several million illegal alien parents a de facto executive amnesty and work authorization.”
That hardline rhetoric plays well with Trump’s base. DACA might be safe for now, but it only exists because of an executive order, which means it’s not protected by law and could be reversed on a whim by Trump. And that has pro-immigrant groups extremely nervous. The way they see it, Thursday’s move was a way for Trump to offer a small — and potentially temporary — concession to Dreamers while still pursuing a policy of mass deportation.
“The Department of Homeland Security is systemically finding ways to put people who have DACA into the deportation pipeline,” said Adrian Reyna, director of membership at United We Dream. “They can publicly say ‘Look, the president is standing by this notion that he feels for the kids,’ but internally they’re not living up to that.”