Arizona immigrant advocates on Tuesday denounced a new Trump administration move to end an Obama-era program that provides a temporary work permit and protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the country as children.
In a memo, Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, wrote that DHS will “make immediate changes” to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals by rejecting all new and pending initial applications. Wolf also wrote DACA protections will be valid for one year, instead of the current two years, meaning the program will be twice as expensive for its 463,560 beneficiaries. Filing for DACA costs $495, and cannot be waived.
The new guidance comes six weeks after DACA recipients and advocates celebrated a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that found the Trump Administration broke the law when it ended the program in 2017. On July 17, a Maryland court ordered the government to fully restore the DACA program.
Currently, DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 with no criminal record who arrived in the country as children to obtain a two-year work permit and grants them protection from deportation.
But because the Trump administration ended the program, eligible new applicants can’t benefit. That means a younger generation of immigrants brought to the country as children haven’t had the safety their older peers enjoy.
Neydi Garcia, a Glendale resident, is one of them. She was planning on applying for DACA two years ago, during her senior year of high school, but couldn’t when the Trump administration scrapped the program. Garcia arrived in the country at 10 months old, nestled in the arms of her parents, who left the state of Guerrero in southern Mexico, she said.
With the recent Supreme Court ruling, she gathered the documents to apply for DACA. Garcia said the program will give her access to scholarships so she can afford to study nursing or enroll in a dental hygienist program.
Tuesday’s announcement clouded the vision she has for a better future, she said.
“Emotionally, I felt really sad, really disappointed,” Garcia said. “I wasn’t expecting anything worse from the president we have right now. But I was excited for everything that could’ve happened and everything that could’ve been possible.”
Her DACA application is ready to send, she said, and she’s planning on mailing it anyway.
“I’m going for it no matter the outcome,” Garcia said. “The worst that could happen is being rejected, but I feel like that would put pressure on them, and show that people are wanting to apply. Maybe there will be a change. I’m hoping for a change.”
Reyna Montoya, a DACA recipient and founder of Aliento – a community group that advocates for undocumented youth – said Tuesday’s announcement was “very difficult to hear.”
She said since the Supreme Court decision in June, people interested in applying for DACA for the first time have been reaching out to Aliento. The July court order from Maryland gave them more confidence that thousands of undocumented youth would soon benefit from DACA.
But Tuesday’s news changed that.
“They’re devastated, they’re really angry, they’re really sad,” Montoya said. “Once again, our livelihood continues to be a political game.”
Trump has said that he wants Congress to pass a permanent solution for DACA beneficiaries, but the legislation has to come with increased border security and immigration enforcement funding.
There were roughly 24,000 Arizona residents with DACA protections as of March 31, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that adjudicates immigration benefits.
When the Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it was rescinding DACA, there were about 25,500 people in Arizona who benefitted from the program, according to USCIS.
Some immigrant community advocates said Tuesday’s memo is cruel. The American Immigration Lawyers Association called it an attempt to deport DACA beneficiaries. Experts said the memo defies the SCOTUS opinion.
Karina Ruiz, executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, also views the new DACA announcement as an affront to the nation’s highest court.
“I believe our democracy is at stake and in jeopardy. This is just the beginning, we do not want to see this behavior by this administration just making decisions disregarding courts,” she said. “It is very scary. To me, it gives me a lot of worry…
“There’s no point in having a Supreme Court if their opinions are not being followed by this administration.”
Ruiz wants the Supreme Court to “take a stance.”
“We are going to continue fighting,” she said. “Right now, our demand, our cry, to the Supreme Court out of desperation is that they give direction to USCIS to respect their order to reinstate the program, to give them a date, and give them details.”
For now, Daniel Hernandez, who was born in Guatemala and arrived in the U.S. when he was 3, hopes he can send his initial DACA application soon.
He said it’s “absurd” the Trump administration insists on not letting him pursue opportunities to improve his life.
“Let us have this,” Hernandez, 18, said. “I’m staying positive. I’ve made it this far, I think I can hold out a little more. I’m spreading that hope and positivity within our own community, in numbers we are strong.”