Less than two weeks into a Donald Trump presidency, Miguel Molina went to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services to renew his status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Under this 2012 Obama-issued executive action, undocumented immigrants like Molina who arrived in the U.S. as minors and meet educational requirements are able to temporarily avoid deportation and get a work permit.
But Molina left the visit with some disheartening news. The director could not guarantee that his status would be renewed since he filed so early – almost a year before the expiration date due to Molina’s anxiety about what will happen under Trump.
“Since Donald Trump won the election and I would face the consequences of what he might do with DACA, I was trying to be prepared and prevent anything from happening,” said Molina, a 22-year-old originally from Guerrero, Mexico, who has spent the past 19 years in the U.S. DACA has allowed him to get a full-time job to pay for community college in Indiana and a repeal would mean a drastic decrease in the educational and work opportunities available to Molina.
Molina’s uncertainty and anxiety is what many of the estimated 728,000 DACA recipients in the U.S. are feeling as Trump has signed a flurry of executive orders on immigration to increase border patrol agents and detention centers, build his infamous border wall and ban immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
So far, DACA has remained untouched, but young “dreamers” like Molina – and the immigrant rights groups that support them – are not yet breathing a sigh of relief.
In an August campaign speech, Trump’s stance on DACA was clear. The real estate mogul said he would “immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal immigrant amnesties, in which he defied federal law and the Constitution.” But in a recent interview after taking office, he seemed to hint he might keep the policy in place, saying that “great people who are here [and] who have done a good job” shouldn’t be worried.
Tension between immigration hardliners and moderates within Trump’s inner circle may be the cause for the radio silence on DACA. Reports say that Trump’s advisers are divided over what to do about the plan, with some favoring allowing the current protections to expire within the next two years and others wanting to end the program immediately. According to Trump, we will have an answer in about three weeks about his administration’s policy on “dreamers.”
DACA students are often referred to as “dreamers” after the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation introduced in Congress in 2001 that would have granted conditional residency and later permanent residency for undocumented youth, but the bill failed to pass multiple times. President Obama issued an executive order in 2012 to create the DACA program after Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
As an executive action, DACA can be revoked by the new president. However, since the program has already begun, ending it would be more complicated than signing a piece of paper, according to Ignacia Rodriguez of the National Immigration Law Center, or NILC.
Rodriguez and her colleagues are preparing for all possible DACA repeal situations, most likely either a program fade-out as DACA expires or an immediate invalidation of DACA work permits that would be more complicated to carry out.
A continuation of the program is not out of the question, according to Rodriguez, who is advising DACA renewals and first-time applicants to go forward with the process with the help of a lawyer who can protect them.
Although the program still stands, the sense of hope that it evoked after Obama’s executive action has waned since Trump was elected.
“There were just so many plans for the future that were positive with the assumption that DACA or something like DACA would be there to support them through that,” Rodriguez said. “But now it’s a different assessment. Now it’s having a plan for all the possible what-ifs.”
Some organizations are cautioning first-time DACA applicants against going through the process given the new administration, such as Immigrant Equality and Undocumented Student Program at University of California Berkeley.
Other immigration groups have mobilized in the past few weeks to help DACA recipients.
L.U.P.E., an Arizona-based immigration rights group, has been planning Know Your Rights workshops and organizing a rapid response team to prepare for any possible move from the Trump administration, Edward Cott Tolentino of L.U.P.E. told teleSUR English.
“Here in Tuscon in particular, this is just a continuation of a struggle we’ve been engaged in for awhile,” Cott Tolentino said. “This is a new wave of attacks and repression, but there are beams of hope as well.”
San Antonio-based RAICES has been rolling out similar programs to support DACA recipients, according to Juana Guzman, a legal assistant at RAICES and DACA recipient herself. Amidst the panic many DACA recipients are feeling right now, support systems are key, according to Guzman, whose boss has assured her of continued employment even in the worst case scenario.
RAICES is encouraging all businesses that employ DACA recipients to continue working with them even in the case of a repeal. The organization also encourages support of the Bridge Act, a bill that would make the DACA executive action more permanent by passing it through Congress.
DACA recipients may have their positive track records of using the program to study or work as an advantage. An immediate repeal of DACA could cost the U.S. $200 billion over 10 years given that DACA recipients wages would decrease and they would likely move to the informal sector where they wouldn’t pay taxes.
All those who spoke to teleSUR English expressed a need for widespread immigration reform that extends beyond DACA and solidarity within the immigrant community regardless of who is eligible for or affected by certain executive orders.
For now, DACA renewals continue and Molina awaits notification of the status of his renewal.
“The only reason we are in this situation of being undocumented is because it’s a broken immigration system that doesn’t permit us to earn our citizenship,” Molina said. “All we are really asking for is that opportunity.”