One of the first immigration battles of the incoming Trump administration will center on the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the young people it benefits.
Senate confirmation hearings this week for both Attorney General nominee, Senator Jeff Sessions, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) nominee, General John Kelly, have done nothing to reassure us about the Trump Administration’s plans for DACA-eligible immigrants. In the face of this fear and uncertainty, however, DACA recipients and the immigrant community as a whole continue to offer personal stories and testimonials that show why they are fighting to remain in the country they call home.
This weekend, nearly 70 pro-immigrant demonstrations will take place across the country with support from United We Dream, SEIU, and CCC/FIRM. Their message? Immigrants consider the United States their home and they are resolutely and passionately “Here to Stay.”
Despite DACA’s unqualified success as an engine of economic growth, job creation, and family unity and its demonstrated benefits in promoting education and community integration, ongoing Cabinet nominee hearings have not offered reassurances about the future of the program. During exchanges with Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Dick Durbin about the future of DACA, Senator Jeff Sessions said, “It would certainly be constitutional, I believe, to end that order,” and he ducked and dodged follow-up questions about what would happen to DACA recipients.
As Senator Durbin pointed out, Sessions’ long history as a leading anti-immigrant lawmaker helps add clarity to his evasive answer: “There is not a spot of evidence in your public career to suggest that as attorney general you would use the authority of that office to resolve the challenges of our broken immigration system in a fair and humane manner,” said Senator Durbin.
Meanwhile, as Sophia Tesfaye highlighted in Salon, DHS nominee General Kelly also refused to provide specifics about plans for DACA under questioning from Senator Kamala Harris. Troublingly, General Kelly also indicated that he has not been part of the Trump Administration’s “ongoing” discussions about immigration enforcement efforts, despite the fact that enforcement priorities and the DACA program would fall under his purview at DHS. Quoting from Salon:
“‘Do you agree that under DACA…that we would not use this information against them?’ Harris pressed.
Kelly, however, declined to elaborate on his priorities for deportation and was mostly noncommittal about Trump’s call for a deportation force to round up and remove law-abiding undocumented immigrants. ‘I do not have a plan at this time, other than enforcement of the law,’ he said, lowering his voice. Kelly explained that he has not been a part of the Trump’s teams ‘ongoing’ discussions on the issue, but promised to ‘keep an open mind’ and ‘look very long and hard’ at the issue. Eventually, Kelly said that people who follow the law ‘would probably not be at the top of the list.’”
In the face of this uncertainty, Dreamers and other immigrants continue to bravely tell their stories in public and illustrate the benefits of policies like DACA for individuals as well as broader society. A new feature in Denverite, “Undocumented: Denver’s DACA kids prepare for the fight of their lives,” highlights how DACA has transformed the lives of seven Colorado recipients:
“[Cheska Mae] Perez, a promising young programmer and the highest ranked student leader in her school’s JROTC program, was officially undocumented. She’s part of a stranded generation, one of at least 28,000 Colorado residents who arrived in the United States as children and now lack legal status.
President-elect Donald Trump has directly threatened to revoke one of the few protections they’ve gained, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA, an executive order issued by President Barack Obama, allows certain young people to apply for work authorization and some degree of protection from deportation.
Seven young, undocumented immigrants spoke at length to Denverite as Inauguration Day approached. Many were raised to be silent, for their own good — but instead they have become an advocate generation. Now, what they face is ‘to have Eden taken away from you,’ Victor Galvan said. ‘It’s to be kicked out of Eden.’
Some of the people we interviewed are deeply involved as advocates — Galvan and Juan Gallegos both work for Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition — while others stay on the edges of activist circles. All are young professionals or students, racing to establish their lives under DACA’s temporary protections. Without it, they could lose their jobs or even be deported. All of them agreed to have their full names printed, though, and all saw their telling of their stories as a kind of activism.
Together, they described a radical change in the way undocumented immigrant communities live in Colorado and across the United States, from arrival to adjustment and advocacy. These are their journeys. (click here to access these seven powerful stories from Colorado).
The Denverite stories echo the powerful testimonials available through this growing New York Timescollection of Dreamers’ stories and on display in the Senate testimony of Dreamer and veteran Oscar Vasquez, as well as the story of Denisse Rojas, a DACA-mented medical school student, who attended the Sessions and Kelly’s hearings.
And as Liz Robbins highlights in the New York Times, the immigrant-led effort to stand up to Trump and share their own stories extends beyond the DACA recipient population. Robbins writes of the January 14th “We Are Here to Stay” series of immigrant-led rallies to be held in Washington, DC and nearly 70 other locations across America:
“Nine busloads of immigrant activists from Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island will depart before dawn for the trip to Washington, intent on making their voices heard. They will be blasting protest playlists while carrying posters and flags, from the familiar rainbow to the worn colors of Haiti.
But they are not going to the better known Women’s March on Washington, planned for Jan. 21, the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. Instead, they are headed to the nation’s capital on Saturday for a more modest rally focused on the rights of immigrants, called We Are Here to Stay and scheduled to start at 11 a.m. at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church.
… For those not traveling to Washington on Jan. 14, immigrant actions are also planned in 50 other cities. The New York Immigrant Coalition will be kicking off a statewide campaign called This is Our New York with events in Union Square; Hempstead, on Long Island; and the Hudson Valley.
…Some, said Ms. Aristizabal of Make the Road, will stand outside with signs in Spanish and English: “Aquí Estamos y no Nos Vamos,” and “We are Here to Stay.” That slogan is familiar, she said, adding, “But it has never been so much of a declaration of defiance.”
According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, “America asked young undocumented people to trust their government, step forward and apply for DACA in order to be able to work legally, feel safe, and continue to help the country they call home. Now, the President-elect and his Cabinet nominees are saying that we should betray that trust, revoke work permits and people’s livelihoods, once again subjecting these young people to deportation. This is part of the long march of intolerance by extremists in the GOP, led by Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions. Following their lead and following through on threats to end DACA would be nothing but a mean and mendacious act unworthy of a great nation.
“In the face of this significant threat, every day, brave men, women, and children continue to stand up and speak out on behalf of themselves and their families. They remind us what it means to be American. This is their home and they are here to stay. Now, our leaders in Washington need to recognize this reality.”