By Samantha Brandbergh and Megan Lupo
Since the Trump administration’s proposed abolition of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the future for immigrant families is unknown, leaving many questions unanswered.
To help aid this uncertainty, immigration attorney Matthew Hirsch provided Rider students and faculty with a detailed overview of DACA during an information session on Sept. 13.
Hirsch, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and former trustee of the American Immigration Council, prefaced his presentation by telling those in attendance, “I don’t have all the answers, but I will do my best to help you.”
DACA was introduced by the Obama administration in June 2012 and went into effect that August. The program had the hopes of benefitting 1.7 million people, but ultimately accepted approximately 800,000 applications.
“When [DACA] was announced, there was no specific deadline, but it was understood that it was created as an executive action, and could be ended as an executive action, too,” Hirsch said. “It’s a discretionary decision by the government to defer prosecution,” meaning the “most innocent” of those in the DACA program would be protected.
DACA also offers employment authorization, the ability to obtain a driver’s license and social security cards, and grants permission for recipients to travel and get advanced parole on a case-by-case basis.
With every opportunity, however, comes limitations. Hirsch went on to explain that DACA is not synonymous with the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which planned to create a path toward legal status for immigrant minors.
After showing proof of age, time of arrival to the U.S., providing academic records to the government and qualifying for DACA, recipients are facing the question, “Now what?”
“It’s creating a lot of fear right now,” Hirsch said. “You didn’t think you were going to leave the house and face immigration officers, or if you had an encounter with the police over something innocent, it wasn’t going to result in detention.”
With DACA, Hirsch said recipients could go to middle school, high school and get into college without hassle.
“They really have been here since very young, since 3 years old,” said Sara Young-Singh, director of the Center for International Education. “These are children that didn’t come here under any circumstances that they initiated.”
Hirsch echoed this sentiment when asked why Americans should advocate for DACA, when there are people trying to legally enter the U.S.
“They’ve carved out a place for themselves in American society,” he said. “They’ve earned the right by reaching certain goals. They don’t give DACA to people who are antisocial, but to people who are pursuing goals. For those waiting outside the U.S., you have to differentiate refugees and people who are waiting in 10-,15-year lines to get green cards.”
These goals include job opportunities once employment authorization has been granted. Every one of the big tech companies in America had DACA recipients among their employees, Hirsch said.
To fervent cheers from his supporters at 2015 rallies, President Donald Trump would declare his plans of terminating DACA.
“It was gathering steam, and that became one of the planks — build the wall, lock them up and [eliminate] DACA,” Hirsch said.
Currently, Congress has a six-month “wind down” deadline to enact DACA legislation.
“As of right now, anyone who hasn’t applied before, may not apply,” Hirsch said. “But anybody who has applied before will have the opportunity to retain the DACA and employment authorization they have now until it expires.”
If a DACA grant expires before March 5, they have a one-month window to file a renewal application, ending Oct. 5, when applications will be reviewed on a “case-by-case” basis. After that date, renewal requests will no longer be accepted.
“I don’t think a lot of Americans realize how easy people can fall out of status, and they’re babies,” Young-Singh said. “How would they apply to continue their status? They really are the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
Hirsch presented answers to frequently asked questions pertaining to the future of DACA provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the first being, “Why is DHS phasing out DACA?” Although there are several reasons, Hirsch said, one of the main reasons is because the Trump administration campaigned on the idea that DACA was an overreach by the Obama administration.
“They claimed that these individuals were doing economic harm to the United States by taking jobs that might otherwise be available to Americans,” Hirsch said. “They also felt that those are individuals who entered the United States in violation of the law, therefore, no matter how sympathetic their situation might be, they shouldn’t have the protection of the law.”
If a recipient does break the law, however, they will have their DACA revoked and put into proceedings, Hirsch said.
Although current DACA holders can keep their authorization until it expires, those who have a pending request will be under stricter circumstances.
“They are going to be looking at [applications] more carefully and screening them more narrowly, so those who would have otherwise applied for DACA and would have gotten it, may not get it anymore,” Hirsch said.
Young-Singh said no one knows how many DACA students currently attend Rider, other than the Department of Homeland Security.
Drew Aromando, interim vice president of enrollment management, said that the 11 students referenced in University President Gregory Dell’Omo’s campus-wide email sent on Sept. 7 are “self-reported.”
“It is important that we continue to acknowledge and support our members of the Rider community that may be affected by the recent actions taken by the Trump administration to end the DACA program,” he added.
The information session concluded with a list of resources, such as DHS.gov, American Immigration Lawyers Association, American Immigration Council, which offers resources for employers, National Immigration Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights.
One of the resources that Rider offers on campus is the counseling center, which has the legal ability to keep student information confidential.
“[They] would be much more equipped in handling somebody coping with anxiety or coping with the stresses,” Young-Singh said.
Hirsch addressed the students and faculty present at the information session with urgency, encouraging advocacy.
“I don’t care if you’re documented or undocumented — you have friends, family members, teachers, neighbors, employers who like you and want to help you and care about this issue,” he said. “Go and send a note or call your senator. It’s called participatory democracy.”
The political science, global studies and foreign languages departments are holding an advocacy session on Sept. 21 in Sweigart 117 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The session will be hosted by Brian Lozano of Wind of the Spirit, an immigrant “faith-based” organization.
DACA: What are the requirements?
In order to qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, potential applicants must:
- Arrive in the U.S. before their 16th birthday
- Be at least 15 years old at the time of filing
- Be under 31 years old, as of June 15, 2012
- Have entered “without inspection” — crossing the U.S. border and never interacting with a border agent — before June 15, 2012, or have expired status as of June 15, 2012
- Present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and request DACA at the time of filing
- Have continuous residence in the U.S. from, on or before June 15, 2007 to present
- As of August 20, there have been 106,341 DACA application requests made in the U.S.: 34,487 initial requests and 71,854 renewals
— Information provided by Matthew Hirsch, immigration attorney
Published in the 9/20/17 edition.