DACA: Deportation or Amnesty? Congress will decide

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People hold signs against U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed end of the DACA program that protects immigrant children from deportation at a protest in New York City, U.S., August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney

NEW YORK – President Donald Trump’s initiative to scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), within the next two years unless Congress passes a bill within the next six months to protect the more than 800,000 recipients from deportation, may actually turn out to be a positive development for illegal aliens brought here as children. Finally, there’s a chance for amnesty, get on a path to permanent residency and US citizenship, instead of being on tenterhooks every two years when they apply for a work permit, fear traveling overseas.

The DACA numbers are staggering: the Migration Policy Institute estimates that as of 2016, 1.3 million young adults ages 15 and older were immediately eligible to apply for DACA. The number rises to 1.7 million when including an additional 398,000 unauthorized immigrants who met all criteria but for high school graduation or current school enrollment.  These ‘Dreamers’ were all brought illegally to the US as infants, young children.

The South Asian community will be hit hard if deportations do indeed take place after March 5, 2018: according to advocacy organization South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a total of 5,500 Indian and Pakistani-origin DACA recipients are in danger of being evicted; 17,000 other Indians face the risk of deportation. A total of 27,000 Asian Americans are covered under DACA. Eighty percent of the 800,000 DACA recipients are Mexican.

Trump, however, is not immune to the broad criticism which has followed the announcement to end DACA. He gave assurance through a tweet – whatever that may be worth – that if Congress doesn’t act, he will again ‘revisit’ the issue: “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”

To be fair to Trump, his pitch to end to end DACA and curb illegal immigration was perhaps the single biggest motivation for his supporters to pitchfork him to the White House. He has kept his campaign promise. DACA was also in danger of being abruptly terminated if a proposed lawsuit by Attorney Generals of Texas and 10 others states to end DACA was successful in court. Trump evaded that lawsuit on the last day of its deadline.  He has given a lifeline to DACA recipients.

Five Indian American lawmakers, all Democrats, didn’t see it that way, though. They came down hard on the Trump administration.

“The consequences of this decision will be devastating. It will split up families, force young people back to countries they never knew, and cost our economy billions of dollars. It is heartless,” California Senator Kamala Harris, a likely contender in the 2020 presidential elections, said.

“The President’s decision undermines our nation’s values and is a cruel betrayal to the more than 800,000 young people, including more than 200,000 Californians, who have only ever known the United States of America as their home,” Harris said.

Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal pointed out Trump’s ‘hypocrisy’.

“After toying with their futures and raising their hopes with talk of his ‘big heart’, Donald Trump has shown exactly what his priorities are. He has once again sided with hate and xenophobia, putting in place a repeal that is cruel, inhumane and unjust,” Jayapal said.

“Let me be clear: Our immigrant brothers and sisters are here to stay. Not only are they welcome in our communities — they are essential to our communities. I will continue to fight alongside ‘dreamers’ and the immigrant rights movement,” she said.

Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi also slammed Trump’s decision, terming the move as “cruel”.

“Through this announcement, the President has made clear that he refuses to protect dreamers and so now Congress must. The administration’s cruel policy includes a six-month phase-out of the DACA program, and Congress must pass legislation to extend this program and protect ‘dreamers’,” Krishnamoorthi said.

“This issue is personal for me because I too was brought to the United States by my parents as a child. The hope for a better a life which carried my parents here was no different from that of the parents of ‘dreamers’, and generations of immigrants before,” he said.

California Congressman Ami Bera reiterated the same sentiment.

“Children brought to the United States — through no fault of their own — deserve our compassion. These children have passed background checks and are already contributing to our economy as productive residents,” Bera said. “Detaining and deporting children is not only morally wrong, it doesn’t make economic sense. I urge the administration to reverse this decision immediately,” Bera said.

Bera’s compatriot from California, Congressman Ro Khanna also was forthcoming to help the ‘Dreamers’.

“We must safeguard the livelihood of ‘dreamers’ and provide these inspiring young people and their courageous parents a pathway to citizenship,” Khanna said.

While it may seem that there is broad consensus for a bipartisan bill to help the Dreamers and reform immigration rules, the fact remains that Congress has failed miserably for over 16 years to pass a bill to fix the issue.

Also, Democrats will not let Trump and the Republicans savor victory over the DACA issue; political football may be in the works.

The last thing Democrats want is for American voters to admire Trump for keeping to his election promise, and Republicans to get the credit for coming to the rescue of DACA (and in turn Hispanic voters). Democrats instead want the DACA issue to be the downfall of the Trump administration. If a bill does go through, Democrats will want total credit for it.

That wall that Trump wanted to build on the Mexican border has started taking shape right on Capitol Hill. The fate of the Dreamers will hinge on how many Democrats and Republicans are willing to clamber over that wall to the other side.

One thing’s for sure: the American public have great sympathy for Dreamers, are overwhelmingly in favor of letting them stay on, not be deported.

According to a new Politico/Morning Consult survey, 58% of respondents think recipients of DACA should be allowed to stay and become citizens, while just 15% said they should be deported. Eighteen percent say they should be allowed to stay and become legal citizens. Also, two-thirds of Trump voters think Dreamers should be allowed to stay, while only 26 percent feel they should be forced to leave.

There is no doubt DACA recipients are hardworking, valuable contributors to society. They get no federal assistance, pay taxes, have a clean record, and have to be enrolled in school, or be honorably discharged from the services, to be even considered for their status.

A FastCompany.com report, citing data from the Pew Research Center, University of California San Diego academics, UnitedWeDream, National Immigration Law Center and Center for American Progress, said 95% of DACA recipients are working or in school; 54% of DACA recipients recently bought their first car, according to a 2016 survey; 12% bought a home; 22% of DACA recipients work in education and health services, the highest of any other industry, according to a 2016 survey.

The stories of Dreamers all have similarities.

Market Watch reported the case of Hina Naveed, who is working as a nurse, to pay for her tuition at law school.

“I may have to make the decision to give up my dream,” she said.

Because Naveed got no assistance for tuition, it took her eight years to earn her four-year college degree, despite being at the top of her graduating class in high school, because she had to work at the same time.

DACA recipients “really have to work twice as hard in some cases to be able to have access to education,” Maritza Solano, the director of education at CASA, an immigrant advocacy organization, said.

Forbes reported on two Dreamers of Indian-origin whose future is in jeopardy if the DACA issue is not fixed.

Ruhi (name changed), a biology major at a university in Texas, was brought to the US after she was diagnosed with a rare brain disease as a child. Her parents and she stayed on.

Adit (name changed), a computer programmer based in San Francisco, spoke of how his family was duped out of a significant chunk of their savings by “a set up that promised to get the family green cards, but turned out to be a hoax.” They sought asylum but their case was eventually denied years after it was filed, by which time they had just about managed to create a life for themselves in the U.S., with “nothing to return to” in either Fiji or India.

WTHR.com reported on a Indian student at Purdue University, freshman Akanksha Guruvayur, who moved with her family to New Jersey four years ago.

“It is achieving my own goals as well as like my family’s dreams of becoming an engineer,” said Guruvayur, “because my parents and my family as well really want me to be an engineer and to be successful. I feel like being in America and studying at one of the best universities in the country is what it means to me to be a DREAMer. The United States is the place that I want to live in. I want to work here. I want to study here. That’s particularly the reason why my family moved to America, because my parents wanted me to get a good college education.”

She added: “If this threatens my status here and my ability to study here, this really concerns me because I need to think about what I would do if I had to be sent back to India and where I would go for college. It scares me that I might not be able to have this opportunity in a few years based on this decision.”

News India Times was part of a media teleconference organized by New America Media with a Dreamer from Mexico, Luis, 27, who was brought the US when he was six months old. He worked full time during high school and college, and is now 9 months sway from graduation.

Luis recounted, almost breaking down in tears, detailed how his brother, father and mother were deported one after the other, over the years. DACA helped him stay on. His brother was later murdered in Mexico in front of his four-year-old daughter.

“I currently have no way to visit my parents and the daughter of my brother who I have never met,” he said.

The DACA announcement by Trump has done away with issuing advance parole papers which allowed recipients to travel overseas, and return.

Edwidge Danticat, author of many books, including, most recently, “The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story,” writing in the New Yorker, had this to say: “For those of us who know Dreamers, who live with or near them, who work with them, who love them, it’s puzzling that their value to this country is being so casually discarded. The Dreamers I know have the drive of pioneers. Their determination is born out of urgency…Taking away DACA is not just a loss for Dreamers; it is this country’s loss as well.”

Ending DACA, say reports, would cause the United States to lose $24.6 billion in tax revenue and $460.3 billion from the national gross domestic product over the next 10 years.

However, as The Washington Post reported, illegal immigration is a huge problem for the US. In 2015 alone, more than 400,000 foreign visitors stayed in the United States beyond their visa, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Robert Warren, a demographer and senior visiting fellow at the Center for Migration Studies, estimates that about 50 percent of the 1.258 million people eligible for DACA are visa overstays.

There may be help coming for DACA recipients sooner than they expected, though: 15 states and the District of Columbia are suing the Trump administration over its decision to end DACA program.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who challenged successfully the travel ban on Muslims, is again taking charge on the DACA issue.

“It’s outrageous. It is. It’s outrageous. I’m not going to put up with it,” Ferguson said at a morning news conference in Seattle, and called it a “dark time for our country.”

Ferguson said he had one question, reported the Seattle Times: “If the overwhelming majority of Dreamers were Caucasian, does anybody really think this president would take the action he took yesterday?”

Comedian Chelsea Handler too raged on similar lines.

The comedian addressing DACA recipients, said: “We’re sorry for making it clear that white supremacists and Nazis are welcome in this country, while young hardworking immigrants brought here as children are not.”

While taunts are being traded daily and protests breaking out all over the country, over the DACA issue, the issue finally is in the hands of Congress.

Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT, put it succinctly: “America’s values are founded on the ideal that all people are created equal and deserve justice. Our current patchwork of immigration policies and programs is broken, and we demand Congress does its job to craft a commonsense immigration process that creates a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring new Americans. This is the only way to align our immigration laws with the values Americans hold dear.”

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