Mass. Activists and Politicians React to Trump’s DACA Repeal

Update: As of Sept. 14, President Donald Trump and the Democratic party have worked closer towards a deal on DACA. Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi announced working on a deal with the President, though the President has both denied and confirmed reports of the deal. The details are murky, though it seems Trump’s signature promise of southern border wall will not be part of the deal.

Original story, as appearing in print: On Sept. 5, President Donald Trump’s administration announced that a popular program that shielded 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation would come to an end in six months. Within hours, local immigrant advocacy organization Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) held a press conference at their office and organized a rally at Faneuil Hall. About 150 Bostonians showed up in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA), including local politicians.

“It’s a very terrifying feeling, but it’s important to understand we have six months to really get ourselves together,” Elias Rosenfeld, a DACA recipient and intern with MIRA, told Spare Change News after the rally. “Arguably the most important six months of our lives are coming up where we have to mobilize and get ready to advocate to pass one of the many legislations in the House and the Senate to protect Dreamers.” Rosenfeld noted that legislation would ensure more permanent protection, independent of whoever happens to be in the White House.

Rosenfeld, a student at Brandeis University, started receiving DACA when the program began in 2012. He came from Venezuela with his mother legally when he was six. However, when his mother passed away from cancer when he was in the sixth grade, it voided his visa, leaving him undocumented. Fortunately, he qualified for DACA soon after it was established.

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, created DACA through an executive order, allowing young undocumented immigrants with no criminal records to work and go to school without fear of deportation. Obama’s order was controversial, and the state of Texas filed a lawsuit, disputing his authority to pass such a measure (Trump’s repeal faces similar criticism).

Advocates hope Congress will pass a law securing the DACA program as legislation. Even Trump seemed to indicate Congress needed to act, tweeting: “Congress, get ready to do your job—DACA!”

Dreamers like Rosenfeld stand to lose a lot should Congress not replace DACA with a permanent law. In addition to staving off deportation, the program gave them access to work permits and driver’s licenses and, in states like Massachusetts, made them eligible for in-state tuition rates at colleges. Most Dreamers under DACA have enrolled in school or found employment, arguably making the most of their opportunity.

Also concerning is the fact that DACA recipients handed over personal information to the federal government when enrolling in the program. That information may now be used to deport them should they ever be arrested.

Still, Rosenfeld is optimistic, especially considering the popularity of DACA. According to a recent PEW study, DACA has widespread support: about 75 percent of all Americans and even two thirds of Trump voters favor the measure.

The big challenge for activists may be the passage of a “clean” bill, one focused just on DACA and not burdened by measures such as border security (which Rosenfeld notes is the common tradeoff in such debates, including the last effort for comprehensive immigration reform).

Local politicians have also voiced support for DACA. At MIRA’s press conference, Boston mayor Marty Walsh said, “This is worse than a broken promise; this is betrayal.”

At the rally that afternoon, city councilor and mayoral candidate Tito Jackson called for Boston public schools to protect Dreamers. He also said the city needed an immigrant defense fund to provide lawyers for those summoned to immigration court, emphasizing that immigrants with a lawyer see their odds of remaining in the country jump from 4 percent to over 45 percent.

Attorney General Maura Healey announced Massachusetts would sue the federal government, alongside 14 other states and the District of Columbia. However, as CNN noted, such a lawsuit would be difficult to win. Beyond the debate about federal policy changes, the lawsuit may be skirted by the fact that Trump is not revoking DACA recipients’ permits, just letting them expire.

Liza Ryan, organizing director of MIRA, called for voters to lobby for two pieces of state legislation currently on Beacon Hill: the Safe Communities Act and the Higher Education Equity Bill. The Safe Communities Act would prohibit police from arresting or detaining people solely on detainers or orders from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—essentially making Massachusetts a “sanctuary state.” Cities and towns like Boston, Somerville and Lawrence already prohibit such measures. The Higher Education Equity Bill would secure in-state tuition for all local students regardless of immigration status. Ryan criticized the state legislature for being too slow to act on these bills, especially with the Trump administration enacting policies such as the DACA repeal and the so-called travel ban on certain Muslim countries.

“In Massachusetts, we haven’t passed any pro-immigrant legislation in 15 years,” Ryan said. “Our legislature is still sitting on two beautiful pieces of legislation that could help the community… [The Trump administration] is coming after our community, and still our legislature has not done anything.”

However, the Safe Communities Act would likely face pushback from Gov. Charlie Baker, who vowed to veto the bill should it make it through the legislature.

Baker also took action to ensure that police can cooperate with ICE. Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that police do not have the authority to hold a person in custody based only on ICE detainers. In response to the ruling, Baker filed legislation that would partially restore local police departments’ ability to use ICE detainers.

However, Baker still criticized the president’s repeal of DACA. In a statement, Baker said, “President Trump made the wrong decision today that could negatively impact our economy and many of the Commonwealth’s families… I hope Congress acts quickly to find a bipartisan, permanent solution to maintain the protections of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.”

The Department of Homeland Security told PolitiFact that DACA recipients whose permits are expiring can still apply for renewal in October, which should keep them covered until March 5. It’s hard to say how reassuring such news is. Texas-based paper The Monitor reported that custom and border agents detained 10 DACA recipients for hours  on September 11, eventually releasing them.

More demonstrations of support for DACA are expected, including a rally on Saturday, Sept. 16.

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