News & Politics

Young Immigrants Wait and Organize as Trump DACA Drama Drags On

Lobbying Congress, providing educational clinics, and pushing city to deny ICE access to courts

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Two weeks after President Donald Trump announced he was rescinding the protections offered to young undocumented immigrants by his predecessor Barack Obama, the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program remains murky. After having dinner with the president last Wednesday, Senate and House minority leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi announced that they had reached a deal to keep DACA active in exchange for beefed-up border security. This was followed by Trump backtracking on Thursday morning, saying there was no deal.

In the meantime, state and municipal authorities as well as immigration-rights groups are scrambling to prepare for whatever comes next.

“New York City will use every resource at its disposal to protect, empower, and defend our DACA brothers and sisters,” said Carlos Menchaca, the Mexican-American chair of the City Council’s Immigration Committee, in a conference call with reporters on Friday afternoon.

Though New York City can do little to directly affect what is ultimately a matter of federal law, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) has been continuing outreach efforts to inform the city’s roughly thirty thousand DACA enrollees of their rights, and of services available to them. These actions have taken the shape of forums, town halls, and contingents of canvassers blanketing immigrant-heavy neighborhoods.

Under the “phaseout” of DACA announced by Trump earlier this month, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children will no longer be allowed to remain in the country after their two-year enrollment in the program expires. No new DACA applications are being accepted, but those whose enrollment expires before March 5 can apply for extensions — though only through October 5. On Friday, September 15, MOIA, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), and various other immigrant-rights organizations under the umbrella of the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative announced a one-day push on September 25 to provide free legal assistance, at 28 events statewide, to the estimated ten thousand DACA recipients in New York State who are eligible for renewal.

These clinics will also serve as venues for immigration attorneys to screen cases and determine whether individuals might have other possible paths to permanent citizenship, or gather information in anticipation of whatever deal is cut in Washington. “It will provide insight on what [immigrants’] options may be beyond DACA, if any exist,” said Camille Mackler, NYIC’s director of immigration legal policy. The collaborative will spend the next ten days trying to raise awareness of the program through local organizations like BronxWorks and Make the Road NY.

NYIC director of immigration policy Anu Joshi suggests that the city could also try to bar federal agents, such as those of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), from certain public buildings. On Thursday, September 14, ICE agents were reported to have arrested four men outside a Brooklyn misdemeanor courthouse. The state Office of Court Administration already has guidelines requiring agents to identify themselves upon entering a courthouse; a possible next step, raised by Legal Aid Society attorney Tina Luongo during a June 29 council hearing, would be for the city to use its authority as the court buildings’ landlord to deny entry to federal immigration personnel without a warrant.

Joshi also mentioned further limiting cooperation between city law enforcement and immigration authorities — though the NYPD does not honor ICE detainer requests, certain warrant verification procedures alert ICE to the presence of undocumented immigrants — and a possible program for the state to issue restricted driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. (Getting arrested for driving without a license is one of the most common ways the undocumented find themselves in hot water.)

In Washington, four bills have been introduced in Congress — including the original DREAM Act — that would codify some of the protections of DACA. Of these, the bipartisan BRIDGE Act, introduced by Republican senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic senator Dick Durbin, seems the most likely to squeak through if it ultimately receives the support of the president. The measure would allow three years of protection for the same individuals who qualified for DACA, but would then require reauthorization by Congress. Though immigration hard-liners like Senator Tom Cotton are sure to fiercely oppose any of these bills, if Trump does ultimately throw his weight behind a plan there’s still a chance that the DACA showdown could result in a more permanent resolution for young undocumented immigrants.

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