'What Trump is doing is pure evil': Thousands scramble to keep DACA protection as extension deadline expires

Many face 'life in the shadows' says one legal assistant, as Obama-era immigrant protection programme is phased out

Elizabeth Segal
Los Angeles
Thursday 05 October 2017 18:09
Protests against the decision to end DACA - such as this one in New York - have taken place all over America
Protests against the decision to end DACA - such as this one in New York - have taken place all over America

In the morning at CARECEN, a legal and immigration aid clinic in Los Angeles, people waited nervously for help with their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) permit renewals – looking to avoid the state of limbo President Donald Trump is about to throw them into.

Mr Trump's recent rescinding of the Barack Obama-created DACA programme – which offered a route into work and education and protection from deportation – has brought chaos to the lives of the 800,000 DACA recipients who arrived in the US illegally as children. A deadline to extend their status closes on Thursday, with around 40,000 of those eligible still not having done so with mere hours left.

“When I heard of the DACA programme ending, it was a shocker, because that's what we rely on to work and go to school,” said 21-year-old Katherine – who did not want to use her surname – after filling out the paperwork which will permit her another two years in the US. “I feel that what [President Trump] is doing to DACA is pure evil.”

Colourful posters on CARECEN's walls urged all to “!Use Nuestras Voces!” and to “Halt Deportations Now!” But despite the empowering words, enthusiastic help, and deep, state-funded resources, many others of those waiting turned away, discouraged.

The DACA programme, which has provided temporary sanctuary for those immigrants who arrived illegally before their 16th birthday and lived in the US since 2007, has been a lifeline for many undocumented immigrants who had spent all of their adult lives in the US without being able legally to work, drive or enroll for college. It has effectively delayed their deportation date for two years, during which time they've had temporary rights, and after which they could apply to have it extended.

But the Trump administration has declared the programme itself illegal, on the basis that Mr Obama passed it without Congressional approval.

DACA participants whose current permit expiration dates fall between 5 September 2017 and 5 March 2018 are the ones who have now been given a month to renew their permits, while those whose permits fall outside these dates are being denied the privilege.

Katherine is fully acclimated to life in Los Angeles, having arrived from Guatemala at age 8. “I consider myself more American than from my country, 'cause this is the only country I've had. To go back to my original country, I don’t know anything, more than language! That’s about it!” Katherine, who was cradling her 21-month-old daughter, Abigail, a US citizen, currently works part-time in a shoe store, and says she plans to finish high school, then to go to college to study child psychology.

Katherine's story is typical of many of LA's young Latino immigrant population, and shows the lengths her family took to bring her here. She was smuggled into California having crossed the border with her 12-year-old brother in the trunk of a smuggler's car.

“The border agents never saw us,” she said. Along the way, the two children, who were travelling to meet their parents in the US, encountered the dark side of border smuggling. ”We were held hostage for three days in a basement,“ adding that their LA-based uncle had no choice but to pay the $2,000 ransom. ”It was really scary.“

Bernie Sanders: DACA decision is 'ugliest and most cruel ever made by a president in modern history'

However, Katherine's brother, whose original DACA request missed the new cut-off date by just a few days, could be soon deported back to Guatemala. Katherine is disappointed, suggesting that his home is also here. “He wants to go back to school,” she said, adding that though they sometimes have “a rocky relationship,” she loves him, and “doesn't want to see him part”.

Carlos Suarez, a Legal Assistant in CARECEN's DACA General Department, says that Katherine's brother's tale echoes that of many of the DACA hopefuls. “Some were expired March 8, not by the March 5 deadline,” he said. “They were devastated! Three days that they missed! And in six months, they'll be invalid! With no work permit, they won't have the same jobs or salaries. What to do as a job?”

When asked what the “left out” DACA folks will indeed do, Mr Suarez said that many will “go back to a life in the shadows”. In other words, as they did before the introduction of DACA, they will not be able to register for school or to work without a permit, and will live in constant fear of the immigration authorities. He adds many Dreamers, with an average age of 26, now have children or businesses that they can't leave. “Many say they're just gonna have to make it, no matter what.”

This said, hope is not entirely dead for the DACA Dreamers. Xavier Becerra, California's Attorney General has announced that he plans to file a suit against the Trump Administration, and will claim that the new rules violate Dreamers' due process, while Congressional leaders also still have five months to act on Dreamers' behalf.

Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, introduced the Border Security and Deferred Action Recipient Relief Act on Thursday which would look to offer to provide residency for up to 10 years as long as DACA recipients were involved in vocational or higher education, enrolled in the army or employed. Meanwhile, Democrat leaders appear confident of passing legislation to protect Dreamers. But, while that process goes on the future could be unclear for thousands.

The Dreamers' being caught between federal laws and state laws is “kind of a weird area”, said Mr Suarez. “You have this community trying to protect these residents, and you have government trying to take you out. So you really don't know where you stand. It's uncertain overall.”

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