Some 40 people attended a recent meeting about President Trump’s decision to end DACA, the federal program that defers deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection are often called “Dreamers,” which refers to a legislative act that was never passed by Congress.
When Congress didn’t act after years of trying to pass the DREAMER act, then-President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012 through executive action.
A critical deadline is coming up on Oct. 5. By then, all persons with current DACA deferrals must apply for a renewal if their benefits expire between Oct. 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018.
All current DACAs are valid until their expiration date. DACA also provides work permits for recipients, and those also remain valid until their expiration.
One state, Rhode Island, has pledged to pay the $495 application fee for all current DACA recipients seeking renewal.
Immigration attorney MariRuth Petzing, with Immigration Counseling Services in Hood River, told those attending a Sept. 7 meeting on DACA, “If you need a DACA renewal, call us, even if you have zero dollars.”
She said that the federal government, working really hard, could deport maybe a couple hundred thousand undocumented immigrants a year.
That meant the government had to choose who to deport. That’s called using prosecutorial discretion.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the DACA program “is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. Deferred action does not provide lawful status.”
In fact, Petzing said most people receiving DACA status do not have a path to citizenship.
She said most DACA recipients have lived in the U.S. for about 20 years, came here on average at age 6, and 72 percent have immediate family members who are U.S. citizens.. Over 90 percent are employed.
She said of DACA recipients, “These are family members, our teachers, our nurses, our business owners.”
She encouraged anyone with an appointment to renew their DACA to go to it.
With the current administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrations, people are fearful that the detailed information DACA recipients provided to the government will be used to find them and deport them.
Rodrigio Juarez Jr., another immigration attorney, also with Immigration Counseling Services, said the government explicitly said it would not use the information provided to refer them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
However, they also said the policy not to refer people to ICE could be changed at any moment, but that has been true for the entire time DACA has existed, the attorney said.
But Petzing said that would be a difficult aspect of the program to change, since it could be challenged in court as arguing that the government “tricked” people into providing information about themselves.
Juarez said the biggest concern expressed since the administration announced DACA was cancelled was that bosses would fire people. But that’s not permissible. A boss can’t say, “Well, DACA was cancelled on Tuesday, your work permit will eventually expire, so I’m going to fire you right now.”
Petzing said, “Sometimes bosses don’t notice that your work permit has expired. You don’t have to tell them. It’s their job to know.”
She said people need a valid work permit to get a Social Security number, so that should be done while the permit is valid. “If you haven’t done it, go tomorrow to do it,” she said.
A Social Security Number can be used to file taxes even without a valid work permit card, Petzing said. While one element of qualifying for DACA is that the applicant is enrolled in
college, DACA recipients do not qualify for federal financial aid. They can qualify for state financial aid, Petzing said.
DACA accepts childhood arrivals who have clean records and are in the military, in college, working, or are raising a family.
Petzing said, “People that have a valid Social Security number and a birth certificate don’t experience – what’s the word I want to use? – the inquisition of” those who don’t when seeking government services.
Petzing also cautioned that times like these are when “People come out to prey on vulnerable people.”
She said if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
She recounted when the Dreamer bill was being considered, there were a lot of scams where crooks would tell people, “I can pre-apply for you under the Dream act if you pay me up front.”
She also encouraged people who are fearful of calling police in the event of a crime to call for help if they needed help. “Local law enforcement here isn’t supposed to be collaborating with immigration,”she said. “They’re not supposed to report you if you’re the victim or witness of a crime.
“I will say, however, to be very careful because it’s very easy to be caught up and arrested even if you’ve done nothing wrong,” she said.
She said, “If you were born in the U.S. and you decided to get drunk,” or smoke pot, or pull a senior prank in high school and toilet paper someone’s house, “Even if you get caught, very little will happen to you.”
But if you’re a non-citizen, getting caught for the same things “can be devastating.”
She said if a party happens and drinking, pot smoking or other wrongdoing is happening, “even if all your friends are doing it, you need to leave.”
She said, “If somebody’s dying, call 911, otherwise, try not to be places where police are showing up.”
To a question from the audience, Petzing said there was no way to predict how aggressive ICE might be once the DACA program ends in March 2018.
She did say that if information recipients provided to the government was used, that would be challenged in court.
She said once DACA has expired, those recipients would be eligible for deportation. She cautioned people who have contact with ICE officials not to sign anything, and to ask for a lawyer. She added, “Please give your real name, it’s a crime not to.”
“These things are easy to say and hard to do in practice,” she acknowledged. She said her office also had cards that people could simply hand to agents that carry the same statements on them.
Petzing said removals of undocumented people for reasons of national security was a new approach being taken by the government.
Asked if interactions could be tape recorded, Petzing said, “You can always record law enforcement as long as you do it openly” and you don’t interfere.
While the administration announced the end of DACA, four bills have already been introduced to replace it. Some are stopgap measures and some offer permanent fixes, with options for eventually becoming U.S. citizens.