Young immigrants and their advocates expressed overwhelming sadness and disappointment Tuesday with the Trump administration’s announced “wind down” of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program known as DACA.
Angel Reyes Rivas, 27, a Glen Cove resident originally from Peru, said his mother brought him to the United States when he was 15, seeing this country as “a land of opportunity” for all. But he is concerned the tide is turning against that vision.
“It looks like it’s going to be an anti-immigrant society where we’ll have to fight for everything, at least for the next three and a half years” of President Donald Trump’s term, he said.
Reyes Rivas said he has been doing well since he was granted a work permit, holding a job as a community organizer and starting his own business repairing mobile computer technology. Now, he doesn’t know whether he will even be allowed to drive when DACA goes away. Worse, he fears deportation.
“I am thinking about myself. I am thinking about the fight that is happening, the fight that my family had to go through to bring me here and others in my situation,” Reyes Rivas said.
The Dreamers — who were brought to or stayed in the United States illegally as children — had steeled themselves for months, deeply worried that the Trump administration would end the program, put in place as an executive action by former President Barack Obama in 2012 to shield them from deportation. Many of those affected are in their 20s.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced “a wind down” of the program, leading to its full “cancellation.”
“It’s a very scary moment right now,” said Francis Madi, 28, a DACA recipient from Venezuela who lives in Hempstead. “We don’t know where this is going to leave us . . . I feel the worst has just been announced, but we just need to get our act together and let others know that they are not alone.”
The decision to end DACA puts pressure on Congress to either propose new measures or act on a proposal to grant legal status to immigrants brought here as children — a measure that stalled since the first DREAM Act was introduced in 2001.
Trump’s decision had caused much speculation, as he had promised to end what immigration restrictionists have seen as illegal executive actions by Obama. However, Trump later seemed to backtrack as he said he would treat Dreamers “with heart.”
By Tuesday morning, Trump placed responsibility for those immigrants on representatives and senators. He tweeted “Congress, get ready to do your job — DACA!”
The subject has proved to be a thorny one in previous attempts at reform in Congress, as many more factors, including other visa programs and border security, have come into play.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) criticized Obama’s unilateral push for DACA, but said that he would weigh proposals in Congress.
“I am completely open to a debate in Congress and among the American people on how to strengthen immigration laws in our country,” Zeldin said in a statement. “We absolutely should attempt to completely resolve the challenges associated with all of the many millions of Americans who are in our country illegally, but not first without ensuring that the challenge doesn’t multiply despite anyone’s best of intentions to do what in their heart they truly believe is right.”
The Catholic Church has thrown its weight behind Dreamers. Long Island’s bishop, the spiritual leader of Long Island’s 1.5 million Catholics, reaffirmed that support Tuesday.
“The Diocese of Rockville Centre stands in unison with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in its position seeking the continuation of” DACA, Bishop John Barres said in a statement. “The USCCB, along with the Diocese of Rockville Centre, believes the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected. Today’s decision makes clear the need to promote and pursue comprehensive immigration reform in our country.”
Dreamers and immigrant advocates on Long Island were concerned about a new segment of their community being targeted at a time of increased immigration enforcement.
“The statements made by Jeff Sessions continue to confirm things that immigrant communities and our allies on Long Island know too well,” said Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizer for Make the Road New York, a Latino advocacy group. “He continues to build a narrative that immigrants are the biggest threat to this country and to our communities.”
Barrientos was among dozens of immigrants and advocates from Long Island who went to Washington to a protest outside the White House. He said the mood on the bus turned somber when Sessions spoke, as many had held out hope for a compromise.
Activists in the Dreamer movement said they intend to defend their gains and push for reform that would bring peace of mind to millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
“I went through my various stages of denial, misery and pain, and I am now pumped” to continue fighting Trump’s policies, said Nelson Melgar, 27, a Dreamer from Glen Cove, among hundreds protesting outside Trump Tower in Manhattan. “They want me to go back into the shadows, but the truth of the matter is I did my time there and I am going to fight for my rights.”
Cesar Vargas, a Dreamer from Staten Island who became the first unauthorized immigrant to become a licensed lawyer in New York after he was granted DACA, captured that sentiment in his reaction to Trump’s decision.
“DACA did not define me. With or without DACA, I am an American, I am an attorney, and this is the country I call home,” said Vargas, whose DACA permit is set to expire in 2019.
“We will mobilize for the DREAM Act to finally bring a permanent solution to Dreamers and secure a path to citizenship,” he said. “But we will be firm that we will only accept a stand-alone DREAM Act with no strings attached. I will not criminalize my 74-year-old mother just so I can get a green card. We will not throw our families under the bus just so we can have citizenship.”
Under DACA, nearly 788,000 young immigrants had been granted protection from immigration enforcement and given permission to work and study legally in the United States, according to figures updated in March by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Since the program started, many have renewed their permission to stay once or twice.
About 14,000 Dreamers on Long Island were eligible for those protections when the program was rolled out, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. It is unclear how many of them applied and were accepted.
The DREAM Act— originally known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — would have granted those young immigrants full legal status, but the measure has stalled in Congress since it first was introduced in 2001. New York’s version of a Dream Act, which has sought to give those minors access to college state tuition, either has stalled or failed to pass since 2011.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced Monday that New York State will sue the federal government to counter termination of DACA, which Cuomo termed a “cruel action” that “will rip families apart, sow havoc in our communities and force innocent people — our neighbors, our friends, and our relatives — to live in fear.”
The Rev. William Brisotti, of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Wyandanch, expressed doubt that Congress will do anything to extend DACA, meaning that the Trump administration’s action, in effect, will end the program.
“It saddens me that it’s ending,” said Brisotti, a longtime advocate for Latino immigrants. “The reason why Obama had enacted the DACA in the way he did was that Congress wasn’t doing anything.”
“Trump is just passing the buck, his cowardly way of approaching it,” Brisotti added.
With Bart Jones
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was an executive action put in place June 15, 2012, by President Barack Obama as a temporary measure to protect young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation, allowing them to stay, study and work legally in the United States.
- 787,580 applicants were approved as of March 31 and 31,367 pending applications were pending, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- 41,970 approved applicants lived in New York, which ranked as the third state for applications after California and Texas.
- The Migration Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., had estimated that about 14,000 young immigrants on Long Island qualified for DACA.
- The program applied to children who had arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16 and had lived in the country continuously since at least June 15, 2007. They also had to be in the country as of June 15, 2012, and had to be under age 31 at that time.
- Other requirements involved educational status or military service and no convictions of serious crimes.
- The program no longer will accept initial requests. The immigration agency said it would adjudicate those filed as of Tuesday.
- Current DACA recipients generally will remain protected and keep their work permits “until they expire,” the federal government said.
Sources: U.S. Department of Homeland Security; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Migration Policy Institute.