With the emotional roller coaster of waiting for a formal statement on DACA from the Trump administration over, affected immigrants and their families are now trying to figure out their next steps as they join allies in calling on Congress for action.
“It’s not surprising, but the things that were said were disheartening,” said Laura Minero, a graduate student at University of Wisconsin-Madison and leader in a campus DREAMers group after the announcement Tuesday that Trump would phase out the program.
Minero said she was struck by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ remark — in his statement announcing a “wind-down” of Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals — that “there is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws.”
“I just don’t understand how that statement makes sense,” Minero said. “The action they are taking is not compassionate. A lot of immigration policies are in place through which authorities are deporting people and separating families.”
Minero said she contacted U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Janesville Republican, to urge him to press Congress to pass broad immigration reform. “I’ve been urging people to put pressure on Congress men and women to come up with a bipartisan, comprehensive and humane solution with a path to citizenship,” she said.
Sessions on Tuesday announced Trump’s decision to rescind DACA, a 2012 executive action under President Obama that provided work authorization and other benefits to undocumented immigrants who brought to the United States as children. DREAMers — taken from a piece of failed federal legislation that would have provided them protections under the law — is a nickname for young people in the DACA program.
Sessions' statement Tuesday underscored what he termed an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.” He went on to say that DACA “contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
“The compassionate thing is to end the lawlessness, enforce our laws and, if Congress chooses to make changes to those laws, to do so through the process set forth by our Founders in a way that advances the interest of the nation,” Sessions said.
Trump’s statement was briefer. “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
An estimated 800,000 people, average age of 25, are part of the DACA program. Some 45 percent them are high school or college students and more than 90 percent are employed, a newly released study found.
A rally and march on Saturday, Sept. 9, to “Defend DACA” was being planned, but few details were available Tuesday.
Pressing Congress to find a solution was also a strategy outlined by UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank in a statement published swiftly after Session’s announcement.
Blank said that repealing DACA “puts at risk a group of promising students at UW-Madison and at higher education institutions across the country.”
“These ‘dreamer’ students seek only what we all want for our children: the opportunity to pursue an education and a fulfilling career,” said Blank. Her statement stressed that UW-Madison’s opposition to Trump’s repeal of DACA is in alignment with that of national higher education organizations like the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
UW will communicate directly with members of Congress, and work with AAU, APLU and other organizations in hopes that a “positive resolution” can be reached, she said.
To threaten DACA students with deportation is unfair, and “not in our country’s best interest as businesses in Wisconsin and beyond continue to struggle to find workers in almost all occupations,” Blank said.
UW System President Ray Cross also pointed to lobbying Congress in his statement.
“Based upon the Executive Branch’s announcement that it will rescind the DACA program, we now hope for a bipartisan solution in Congress. We look forward to working with Wisconsin’s congressional delegation to ensure we protect our students,” Cross said.
Aissa Olivarez, staff attorney for the Community Immigration Law Center in Madison, said the Department of Homeland Security advised Tuesday that people with DACA whose expiration date is March 5 or earlier should apply for renewal by Oct. 5.
“After that, people will be out of luck,” Olivarez said. “It looks like the administration will allow employment authorization documents to expire. It looks like that is the ‘wind-down.’” DHS gave no guidance if DACA holders who 2-year status has expired would then be vulnerable to deportation.
“It’s a scary thought for these students who have lived in the U.S. most of their lives and participated and given back to the community,” she said.
DACA-holders now face the “nerve-wracking” process of deciding what to do. Thing are especially tense for those who have moved since their last application, since applying to renew would give federal authorities their new address.
That’s why Olivarez decided to extend the hours of the law center’s free clinic Friday. Services will be extended to 9 a.m.-12 p.m., in addition to the regular hours of 1:30-5 p.m., at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 E. Gorham St.
“We want to reassure and provide counseling to people nervous about what to do,” she said. Options vary from case to case, and may include another avenue by which someone now hold DACA can pursue documentation.
The nonprofit Migration Policy Institute has estimated that there are 14,000 DACA-eligible young people in Wisconsin.
Olivarez reflected on the stories she hears from law center clients. “It’s hard for the students who come through here. They want what their peers have – graduating from school, buying homes. Now they able to do that because of DACA, but their future is uncertain. It’s hard to make life decisions when that is hanging over you.”
She praised the activism of supporters of the local DREAMers community. “It’s time for those of us who have ability to vote to speak up to Congress will pass meaningful legislation.”