Cinthya Zapata came to the United States from Mexico and settled in Austin, Texas, with her family when she was only 2 years old. No one from her family lives in their old town of Toluca anymore. So if Congress, over the next six months, doesn’t come up with a solution to Donald Trump’s plan to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, she’ll literally have no place to go.
“People like me contribute to society,” Zapata, 21, told The Root in a phone interview. “A lot of us have jobs. We’re going to school. We’re contributing to society. And what makes me angry is that people say that we are stealing jobs from people. That’s one of the things that bothers me the most because it’s not true.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday at the Justice Department that the Trump administration is rescinding DACA, arguing that former President Barack Obama abused his executive powers by implementing the policy. Congress now has until March 5, 2018, to figure out ways to preserve DACA protections before recipients lose their status.
Protesters have already taken to the streets to protest Trump’s decision, which is sure to bring anxiety to the more than 800,000 individuals who, since the program’s implementation in 2012, have been living under DACA protections and are often informally referred to as Dreamers, a reference to the related, but never passed, DREAM Act that would have provided protections similar to DACA.
Hundreds of thousands of young people have been able to live and work in the United States legally since the administrative program was implemented. Eligibility for DACA is strict. Applicants cannot have a criminal record and must have arrived in the country before 2007 at no older than 16 years of age. Recipients must reapply every two years to stay active.
DACA is not a path to citizenship. Moreover, even though DACA recipients pay taxes, they do not see the benefits of those tax dollars. They cannot vote, nor are they eligible for federal grants, aid or student loans for college, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
According to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, there are more than 575,000 undocumented black immigrants in the United States, but many do not benefit from programs such as DACA. Opal Tometi, BAJI’s executive director and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network, condemned Trump’s actions in a statement soon after Sessions’ remarks.
“By canceling the program, President Trump is yet again pandering to white supremacists over immigrant, black and poor communities, as well as millions of organizations, businesses and allies that support DACA recipients,” she said. “It is now up to Congress to come up with a long-term solution to our broken immigration system that protects human rights and enables immigrant families to live and thrive in the U.S.”
Carla, who moved to Maryland with her family from Peru when she was 5 years old, says that she isn’t surprised by Sessions’ announcement because of how Trump stereotyped undocumented immigrants throughout his campaign.
“Look who they elected as president. They love treating anyone who is not white as a second-class citizen,” said Carla, who declined to give her full name for fear of being reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “You can see how they treat blacks and Hispanics. Literally, anyone who is not white. It’s really hard to swallow, especially from people my age who support Trump and really do believe that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs, even though that is such a ridiculous argument.”
When Carla is not working at a local hospital doing patient registration, she’s attending class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, one of the few schools she could afford because she can pay the in-state tuition.
Labor experts told CNN Money that scrapping DACA would create worker shortages and that the federal government could face a $60 billion tax hit. More than $280 billion in loss in economic growth could also follow.
To ease the concerns of DACA recipients, Sergio C. Garcia, a lawyer with his own practice in Chino, Calif., posted on Facebook that he would assist DACA recipients with questions about their status.
Garcia is especially qualified to take on this issue. Back in 2012, he passed the bar on the first try but was not able to practice because he was undocumented. In 2014 the California Supreme Court ruled that he was allowed to practice law in the state, even though federal law precluded any public or private entity from hiring him.
He told The Root in a phone interview that DACA recipients should brace for lots of uncertainty during the next six months as Congress wrestles with how to address the Trump administration’s move.
“We can still fight this and appeal to Congress to do the right thing and protect them before the six-month run,” he said. “But also to just being cautiously optimistic because Congress has never gotten it together. That’s the reason why Obama had to issue the executive order to begin with because Congress couldn’t come together on a DREAM Act in the past.”
Trump, however, is not making it easier for Garcia and activists to protect people living under DACA. The Daily Beast reports that the White House is instructing ICE officers to use DACA information, such as home addresses, place of work and school, to deport them:
In a memo, the Department of Homeland Security answered this question. And its statement—full of wordy legalese—made clear that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers will be able to use DACA recipients’ personal information to deport them.
“Information provided to USCIS in DACA requests will not be proactively provided to ICE and CBP for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings, unless the requestor meets the criteria for the issuance of a Notice To Appear or a referral to ICE under the criteria set forth in USCIS’ Notice to Appear guidance,” said the statement.
In other words, USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency which handles DACA) won’t proactively give immigration enforcement officers a list with the names and addresses of all DACA recipients. But if ICE officers ask for it, the agency will provide it.
“They’re saying we will not give your information unless ICE tells USCIS they need it to deport you, which basically means we’ll give your information out whenever ICE says it’s necessary to deport you,” said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney who represents many DACA recipients. “That’s the point.”
As grim as the DHS memo is, politicians, tech companies and even celebrities have vowed to defend DACA recipients:
Carla, the University of Maryland student, is still processing everything. She is keeping the faith but is also doing the mental exercise of preparing herself for the worst.
“It makes me worry for my future here because if I am not able to work, I won’t have a job,” she said. “I don’t know how I’d be able to continue paying for my life. I’m going to school to build a future for myself. But if DACA is taken away, I don’t have anything in Peru. If worse comes to worse, I don’t have anything to go back to.”