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Trump administration: DACA ending in March

Arizona recipients worry about future

The Trump administration ordered an end Tuesday to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama action that shields about 788,000 people from deportation, and pushed Congress to replace the policy with a legislative fix before March 5, 2018.

There are about 28,000 DACA recipients in Arizona.

The federal government will no longer accept new applications, said Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a press conference, and DACA recipients will not be immediately affected. Instead, the acting head of Homeland Security Elaine Duke has chosen to orderly wind down" the program.

DACA permits that expire between now and March 5, 2018 can be renewed for a two-year renewal before October 5.

"The program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded," Sessions, who said that DACA was "implemented unilaterally, to great controversy and legal concern."

The Obama-era program was an "open-ended circumvention of immigration laws" and an unconstitutional use of executive authority, Sessions said. "The executive branch through DACA deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorized on multiple occasions," Sessions said.

Sessions argued that the Obama-era program had contributed to the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014 and 2015, and that the program had "denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans."

"The nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we accept each year, and that means all cannot be accepted," Sessions said.

Ending the program without a replacement would place nearly a million people across the country — nearly 30,000 in Arizona — at risk of being rapidly deported.

After more than a week of reports that President Donald Trump would cancel DACA, the White House said that a decision would come on Tuesday, and on Sunday, Politico's Eliana Johnson reported that the administration plans to end the program despite "strong warnings from members of his own party."

Johnson wrote that Trump has "wrestled for months" with the decision, but has ultimately decided to agree with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who argued that the president should terminate the program and "kick the issue to Congress."

'What is my future going to look like?'

DACA recipients, community members, and organizers gathered early Tuesday at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 headquarters in central Phoenix to listen to the administration’s official announcement on DACA.

“I’m a little anxious,” said Francisco Luna, member of the non-profit group, Trans Queer Pueblo, and DACA holder since 2013. Luna said he wasn’t expecting good news since he heard Donald Trump was about to make an announcement.

“(I wondered) What is my future going to look like? Do I put everything on hold?” Luna said. “Nobody should be left behind. We’re gonna fight for everybody.”

At 8 a.m., Sessions appeared on the screen. DACA recipients and other members of the community sat down and paid close attention. Tears started to drop as Sessions’ speech progressed.

When the announcement ended, a heavy silence took over the room. DACA holders hugged each other and passed tissues around. Some of them wiped their tears, took deep breaths and quickly attended reporter’s requests for interviews, only to return to their family and friends.

Sessions said there would be a wind-down process, where no new DACA applications would be accepted, to give Congress a chance to pass related legislation “should it so choose.” That period will last six months.

In a written statement released by the White House, Trump said he does not favor punishing children for the actions of their parents, but as a country, the people must recognize that the United States of America is a nation of opportunity because it is a nation of laws.

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“The legislative branch, not the executive branch, writes these laws – this is the bedrock of our Constitutional system, which I took a solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend,” Trump said in his written statement.

“Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

DACA, an Obama-era program created by executive action in 2012 protects immigrants and offers work permits to those without legal status who were brought to the United States as children.

Over the last five years, nearly 788,000 people have successfully applied for DACA, including nearly 36,000 people in 2017, according to statistics from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Of those, around 211,000 renewed their application this year, according to statistics from USCIS.

In Arizona, nearly 31,000 people have applied and had their applications accepted, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

MPI estimates that around 1.9 million people are eligible for DACA in the United States.

'Cruel day for Dreamers'

The reaction to Sessions' announcement was swift — and furious from many

“President Trump once claimed that under his administration, DREAMers would be treated ‘with heart,'” said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. “Yet nothing is more heartless and callous than taking away the sense of belonging and security for nearly one million young people in our country or using them as a bargaining chip for his obsession over a border wall."

"Today is a cruel day for Dreamers, our families, and all Americans. President Trump’s decision to end DACA is a manufactured crisis in response to an artificial deadline from anti-immigrant leaders," said Gabriela Melendez, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union. "There is no humane way to end DACA before having a permanent legislative fix in place. President Trump just threw the lives and futures of 800,000 Dreamers and their families, including my own, into fearful disarray, and injected chaos and uncertainty into thousands of workplaces and communities across America. He is using the lives of 800,000 people as pawns."

"This is a morally bankrupt choice," said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. "This is a defining moment for our country. We are being called upon to choose which side of history we are on: Are we going to stand with young people who have grown up in our country and are striving to achieve their dreams? Or are we going to allow policymakers to erect barriers that block youth from contributing their best to this country, which is their home?"

"President Trump allowed DACA to continue for his first seven months in office. He told young immigrant people that they could ‘rest easy’ and not fear deportation. Now Trump has bowed to his anti-immigrant advisors and base—putting politics above people, hate above reason," Hincapié said.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. John McCain said that the decision to eliminate DACA is "the wrong approach to immigration policy at a time when both sides need to come together to reform our broken immigration system and secure the border."

"I strongly believe that children who were illegally brought into this country through no fault of their own should not be forced to return to a country they do not know," said McCain. "The 800,000 innocent young people granted deferred action under DACA over the last several years are pursuing degrees, starting careers, and contributing to our communities in important ways. While I disagreed with President Obama’s unilateral action on this issue, I believe that rescinding DACA at this time is an unacceptable reversal of the promises and opportunities that have been conferred to these individuals."

"The federal government has a responsibility to defend and secure our borders, but we must do so in a way that upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation," McCain said. "I will be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to devise and pass comprehensive immigration reform, which will include the DREAM Act."

On news that the White House was considering cancelling DACA last week, Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in an email that "We must not deport the American promise these young immigrants and their families represent. That's not who we are."

"My heart breaks for the young immigrants for whom fear and anguish will replace the promise they both saw and brought to America. They are our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow church-goers. They are American in every way but paperwork," he wrote.

"We have a solution before our eyes. Leaders in Congress from both parties must act immediately to pass a solution such as the DREAM Act that preserves Dreamers' economic contributions and benefits American workers," Noorani said.

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The announcement had the support of Arizona’s Senate president and former governor.

“Regardless of how one may feel about the substantial contribution to our society by individuals benefitting from inclusion in DACA, it seems very apparent that our former president’s executive order exceeded his constitutional authority,” said Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler). “As for the state Legislature, we have been consistently reminded by the proponents of DACA that immigration policy is within the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress, not the state Legislature.”

“Because of DACA, we’ve had a surge of more illegal immigration because everybody wanted to get in underneath that,” said Jan Brewer, Arizona’s governor from 2009 to 2015. “Today, the president of the United States made a decision to send it to Congress and let’s fix it for once and for all.”

Abril Gallardo, 27, is an organizer with LUCHA who helped plan the demonstration outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Phoenix on Tuesday.

With DACA she was able to purchase a car, start working and financially support herself. Now, she said all she can think about is the about the economic impact the removal of DACA will have on the recipients.

“I just felt like nothing good could come,” Gallardo said. “I think my first reaction was to laugh because what this administration is doing is a joke.”

She said she felt anxious, but seeing everyone supporting each other has given her hope. “For the people that are out there, we are going to continue to fight and we need them to unite and to join us. Together, we are going to be OK.”

Trump's shifting positions on deferred action

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly attacked the DACA program, but once in office, his public statements softened even as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents went after several people with DACA, sometimes known as "Dreamers."

Last Friday, Trump told reporters at the White House that a decision was coming. "Sometime today, or over the weekend, we'll have a decision," he said.

A reporter asked, "Should Dreamers be worried?"

"We love the Dreamers. We love everybody," Trump replied.

While Trump said in February that administration officials would "show great heart," when it came to DACA, the White House has been under growing pressure to rescind the program from Republican hard-liners, including nearly a dozen attorney's general from Republican-led states.

On June 29, Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, and 10 other state officials, submitted a letter to the Trump administration demanding that the federal government rescind DACA and halt the renewal or issue of new DACA permits in the future.

Sent to AG Sessions, the letter gave the Trump administration until Sept. 5 to end the program, or the face the expansion of the legal challenge that blocked the Obama administration from expanding DACA and offering deferred action to parents in 2015.

Following the publication of the letter, attorneys general from 20 other states, including California, New Mexico, and New York, urged the administration to maintain DACA, arguing that the program "represents a success story" for those who applied, and is "a boon to the communities, universities, and employers with which these Dreamers are connected, and for the American economy as a whole."

While the White House has accepted the deadline, Marshall Fitz, managing director of immigration with the Emerson Collective — a progressive organization funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs — said the Sept. 5 date was "an artificially made, politically imposed deadline. There's nothing currently requiring the administration to engage in a decision over DACA."

"The reality is, DACA is not before any court." Instead, an attempt by the Obama administration to expand DACA to include more children as well as their parents, also known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was rendered moot after the federal government rescinded its lawsuit following Trump's election.

"Paxton is trying to take advantage to aggressively terminate the DACA program," Fitz said.

If the deadline passed, Paxton promised to put Trump in the unenviable position of having to defend the Obama-era DACA program, one that he promised to end during his immigration speech in Phoenix last year.

"We will immediately terminate President Obama's two illegal executive amnesties in which he defied federal law and the Constitution to give amnesty to approximately five million illegal immigrants, five million," Trump said.

"In a Trump administration all immigration laws will be enforced, will be enforced," he said. "Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws and to have a country. Otherwise we don't have a country."

In his recent speech in Phoenix, Trump did not mention the executive actions, but used immigration as a jumping off point to talk about pardoning the former sheriff of Maricopa County Joe Arpaio, following his conviction for criminal contempt.

"The most sacred duty of government is to protect the lives of its citizens, and that includes securing our borders, and enforcing our immigration laws," Trump said.

However, earlier in the year, during a news conference in February, Trump appeared more conflicted about the fate of the Dreamers, once calling them "incredible kids."

And, in April, he told the Associated Press that DACA recipients should "rest easy" because the administration was "not after the dreamers, we are after the criminals."

Support for DACA

Last Tuesday, nearly three dozen people gathered in front of Tucson's City Hall to show their support for DACA.

Holding a banner that read "here to stay," DACA recipients and supporters vowed to push back against the end of the program.

"We continue to hear these threats against DACA," said Jessica Rodriguez, an organizer with Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA. "This is not going to stop. We're going to continue to take the streets. We're going to continue to call on our officials. We are not going to stop."

Advocates vowed to fight for the program politically, including pushing members of Congress like U.S. Rep. Martha McSally.

"Call out representatives like Rep. McSally, who has said that she supports the DACA-mented community and the Dreamers," said Mo Goldman, an immigration attorney in Tucson. "She said it, and she needs to be held accountable. She needs to be on the phone talking to the White House."

"This administrations is just hanging this threat over our heads, because they know that it does affect us," said Fernando Najera, 20. "The morale of our community is a little low right now."

Najera said that he felt personally targeted by the possible end of DACA, but added that since he spends most of his time on the University of Arizona campus, double-majoring in political science and law, he feels supported by his colleagues and the student union. "I'm empowered, but we've got to know that we're being targeted."

"We bracing for the fight that's ahead," said Najera. "If DACA goes away, that takes everything away and I'll work hard, I'll fight, to get back any protection that I have."

"The fact that we have a president, who doesn't see humanity in people, who encourages people to attack those who do not agree with him, it's clearly a message he's sending out to the people and throughout the country," said Rodriguez.

"DACA is not a perfect program because it does not include all us of all and all our families, but it was a victory," she said. "It took real power from the people to get DACA and we're not going to let it be taken away. It was long overdue, and we're are going to do whatever it takes to protect it," she said.

DACA was created in 2012 by Obama just two years after a Republican-led filibuster stymied the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors act in 2010, known as the DREAM Act.

After sidestepping Congress once to create DACA, Obama tried to expand the program in November 2014 by including more young immigrants in the deferred action program, as well as their parents.

However, that program ground to a halt in Feb. 2015 after U.S District Judge Andrew S. Hanen granted an injunction as part of a lawsuit filed by Texas, and joined by Arizona and 25 other states. The Obama administration appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but that court agreed with Hanen and let the injunction stand.

The court's decision kept nearly 39,000 people from filing for deferred action for childhood arrivals, and another 97,000 from filing as parents, according to estimates from the Migration Policy Institute.

Overall, about 3.9 million people would have been covered by the expanded program, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Obama administration attempted to unlock the program by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, but in June 2016, the justices announced that they were deadlocked, 4-4, effectively leaving the lower court's injunction in place.

Even before the Trump administration announced the end of DACA, dozens of groups offered support for the deferred action program.

Lea Márquez Peterson, the president and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter supporting DACA, writing that the U.S. economy could lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in contributions to Social Security and Medicare.

"Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy," she wrote. "With them, we grow and create jobs. They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage."

"There is no good moral, legal, or political reason to get rid of this wildly successful program," wrote Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. "More than 100 legal scholars, countless faith leaders and economists, along with business and education leaders, have spoken in defense of the program. In addition, polls show that 7 out of 8 voters support this program. DACA is one of those rare instances where doing the right thing is also the politically popular thing."

"It is time for all people to organize with fierce and unapologetic determination to counter the vicious hate being pushed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and white supremacists in the White House," said Greisa Martinez Rosas, policy and advocacy director with United We Dream. "Every Republican elected and administration official who has tried to have it both ways is now on notice. You either oppose the drive to kill DACA or you are complicit in our suffering."

In an email, United We Dream promised to "fight like hell for DACA."

On Thursday, more than 300 business leaders, including the chief executives of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google urgedTrump to preserve DACA in an open letter. Organized by FWD.us, a political action group, the letter said in part that DACA recipient are "are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs. They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage."

As it became clear that DACA might be eliminated, McSally and 9 other Congress members sent a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, asking him to press for a legislative fix.

Ryan seemed to agree, saying during a radio interview that he didn't think Trump should terminate the program. "I actually don't think he should do that. I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix."

Bill's long history, and a return

Originally introduced as a bipartisan piece of legislation in 2001 by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch, the DREAM Act could not get enough votes in the Senate. In 2009, 39 senators and 128 representatives signed on as cosponsors, but again, the bill could not pass, even when a 2010 version was incorporated in a defense authorization act.

Among the 40 senators who voted against the bill in 2010 was U.S. Sens. John McCain and John Kyl.

In response, Obama announced DACA, an executive action that provided administrative relief from deportation for two years for eligible immigrants who came to the United States before June 15, 2012.

"This is not amnesty," said Obama during a press conference announcing the program. "This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix," he said. "This is a temporary stopgap measure."

Even as rumors swirled that the Trump administration was about to overrule DACA, Republican Congressman Mike Coffman announced that he would file a petition next week to force the House of Representatives to vote on the 2017 version of the Dream Act.

Meanwhile, a Senate version of the bill, submitted by Sen. Lindsay Graham, is also in the works and has 7 co-sponsors, including Flake.

During the press conference on Tuesday, Goldman offered some advice: First, he said, watch out for notarios, or people who would scam people looking for legal advice and help.

Then "take a deep breath. We are going to work through this, there will be a solution, and we can win this battle," he said. "This has been going on for years. This might be a bump in the road, but we have the energy to keep fighting."

Cronkite News reporters Andrea Jaramillo Valencia, Angelina Cabral and Anna Furrey contributed to this story.


TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Supporters for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a protest earlier this year in Tucson.