People brought to the U.S. when they were children, known as Dreamers, have found themselves caught up in the latest political debate in Washington. DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is scheduled to expire in March if lawmakers don’t extend it.
Young immigrants have been granted temporary protection from deportation — as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services moves to comply with a federal court order directing it to resume accepting DACA renewal applications for previous enrollees in the program. DACA recipients are crossing their fingers that they'll be able to continue living in the United States.
Camille Mackler is director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group. She directs young DREAMers to the UCIS website. "On Saturday night they issued guidance on their website as per the court order, giving instructions as to how individuals who had previously received DACA could now apply, and that's important because when they had first thought to terminate the program, the government give had only given 30 days for individuals whose DACA grants expired before March 5th of this year to renew one last time, but individuals who'd had their DACA grants expired before September 5th, 2017, and hadn't been able to renew for whatever reason, or who had DACA grants that were going to expire after March 5th of this year 2018, were basically out of luck."
Democratic Assemblywoman Pat Fahy of Albany says many DACA people who reside in New York have been here for years. "They are a part of the fabric of our society, most of whom have become quite successful and hard-working. They are tax-paying individuals, and we need to settle this. Keep these children now adults here in this country. Many of them would be going home to a country they never knew because they came here as young children. To use them as a bargaining chip is not fair. We're causing tremendous stress in the lives of those young people."
Mackler says for the most part, non-citizens are fearful. "Individuals are very afraid, and that's not just undocumented immigrants or immigrants with criminal records, you know the ‘bad hombres’ of the campaign days." It's pretty much immigrants across the board, because we've seen of course a lot more enforcement, especially against individuals who are here without status or who have criminal records or who have other issues. But even amongst individuals who have legal status or qualify for legal status."
Since the Trump administration announced that it would be phasing out the DACA program, Mackler says some immigrants and their families have been burdened by anger, despair and confusion. "Feeling that this country is against them, and not just immigrants but you know, those who are married to them, the children, the parents of immigrants, close community members, close friends, employers, neighbors."
Mackler sees a “clean DREAM Act,” one not tied to border wall funding or other provisions, as the sole solution. "Legislation that would protect not only Dreamers but also those who have lived with temporary protective status for 20 or 30 years and we're seeing designations end one after the other, leaving people who have lived here for decades with no options."
Mackler says the coalition is fielding a high number of queries like "What happens if I get deported" and "What are my options, can I go to Canada?"
It’s unclear if a compromise on DACA will be reached before the government runs out of funding Friday night.