In 2012, the administration of then President Barack Obama administration a policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), giving young undocumented immigrants who came into the country before their 16th birthday a renewable two-year reprieve against deportation. The policy also extended work authorization to this group.
It is estimated that more than 750,000 immigrant children have been approved for DACA relief since it was implemented. However, under the
Trump administration, which took office Jan. 20, this population could lose their right to stay in the U.S. and could be facing the threat of being deported to countries with which they have no real connection. In a New America Media-sponsored teleconference, held last month, experts in immigration law explained the significance of the Trump administration’s new executive laws on immigration and how it could affect DACA. There are three main executive orders coming out of the Trump administration, including one on border security, another on enforcement inside the U.S. and a third on the so-called Muslim ban, which affects refugees and admissions for six countries, explained Jose Magana-Salgado, managing policy attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center Washington, D.C.
Adding that executive orders cannot contravene existing laws and are subject to congressional funding, Magana-Salgado warned: “The federal government has basically said, before we were targeting very small segments of the undocumented population for deportation, now we’re going to be targeting everyone. So, anytime the federal government comes across an individual that is undocumented, they’re going to try to deport them.”
According to Magana-Salgado, the federal government is also trying to expand state and local programs to make it easier to use local resources to identify undocumented immigrants. The government is also using tactics such as stripping federal funding for sanctuary cities (municipalities that protect the privacy of undocumented residents) to try and enforce its immigration orders.
He explained that lawsuits have been filed by some of these cities, including Santa Clara, San Francisco and Richmond, plus municipalities in Boston. Still, the order has some bite. According to Magana-Salgado: “The order also calls for the expansion of something called Expedited Removal … This basically means they are going to deport people a lot quicker without the due process protections of being in court.”
Amid the fear, Mariam Kelly, senior immigration attorney and DACA program supervisor of community legal services in Palo Alto, California, confirmed the landscape has changed with the new U.S. president. DACA is still in effect, but there is growing uncertainty. “We do know that some kind of change will be coming,” Kelly explained. “… We don’t know whether the DACA program will be cancelled. If it were to be cancelled we don’t know when that would happen.”
Kelly explained that DACA holders still has the right to go before an immigration judge to fight their case and contact a lawyer who can represent them for relief. “There are also forms of relief other than DACA which could include special immigrant juvenile status that applies to certain children, but could go up to the age of 21 depending on the circumstances,” she said. “There is also the U Visa for victims of crimes that occur here in the United States. There are family-based petitions, for example if they have U.S. citizen relatives.”
Also concerned is the Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Martha Ruch, an Equal Justice Works Emerson Fellow and staff attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles, said many in the community live in fear, even legal immigrants. She stressed knowing the law is key.
“Increased immigration enforcement means that ordinary people are perhaps going to be subject to questioning about their country of origin, their legal status,” said Ruch. “So, it’s crucial that everyone understands their rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments.” The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right to refuse unreasonable searches. The Fifth secures the right to due process of law, right to remain silent and right against self incrimination. The Sixth ensures the right to an attorney.
“It’s crucial that everyone knows that if they are being questioned they should not reveal their immigration status to immigration officials, and to a large extent, to police either,” Ruch warned. “They can say that they are asserting their right to silence and will not sign anything until they consult with an attorney.” On the question of immigrants of African descent, Magana-Salgado made it clear “the criminal justice system disproportionately targets individuals of color, including African American individuals.”
He anticipates “the immigration policies of this administration will actually exacerbate the institutional discrimination and racism of our criminal justice system and will undoubtedly lead to the deportation of individuals of color because they were unjustly targeted at first by the criminal justice system.”