Supporters of the Obama-era initiative that has shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation denounced on Tuesday the announcement that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will begin to "wind down."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said there will be an unspecified “wind down period,” which is meant to give Congress some time to come up with a potential replacement for the program. Replacement legislation is unlikely to pass without additional immigration enforcement provisions, such as increased border security or ways to crack down on sanctuary cities.
Previous reports said there would be a six-month delay, but Sessions did not mention that during his remarks. As a candidate, Trump promised to end the program, commonly called DACA, as part of his stance on immigration. Since his inauguration, however, he has signaled a willingness to keep at least portions of it.
DACA has been a beneficial tool to those who never knew the country in which they were born, like Dalia Hernandez, who arrived in Merced from Mexico when she was 2.
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The 23-year-old is a recent graduate of California State University, Stanislaus, thanks to DACA, she said. “I know nothing about where I was born,” she said. “I’ve been here my whole life. I haven't been anywhere else since I got here.”
The first in her family to go to college, Hernandez said she worked nonstop to pay tuition at Merced College for two years before transferring to CSU Stanislaus. She hopes to start working to obtain her teaching credentials in January.
“(DACA) helped me a lot because I felt like I was basically like everyone else, like my friends who were born here,” Hernandez said. “I felt like I had a chance. I could do things they could, like have the same jobs."
In an interview with the Associated Press in April, Trump said young immigrants, often referred to as Dreamers, should “rest easy” and that his administration is “not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals.” Since then, the White House had left the policy in place, angering some in Trump’s base. Ten states, all of whom went to Trump in the 2016 election, promised to sue the federal government over the program unless Trump ended it by Tuesday.
Trump’s decision will affect more than 750,000 young people who have obtained work permits through DACA to either study or hold a job. The permits last two years and were renewable. Under Trump’s new plan, once a Dreamer’s work permit expires, that person will be eligible for deportation, effectively phasing out the program by 2019.
UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland denounced the decision and vowed that the university would continue providing Dreamers an education. “The decision to end DACA is a cruel bait-and-switch for the many young adults who are living, learning and working here under its protections,” Leland said in a statement. “Congress must now step up and pass legislation that will allow Dreamers to remain in this country to pursue the opportunities they have earned.”
Leland said the newest University of California campus has about 600 students who are undocumented. “These are hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying young people who enrich our campus and community,” she said.
For an estimated 60,000 undocumented immigrants living in Stanislaus and Merced counties, these are perilous times as immigration enforcement ramps up nationwide.
The announcement on Tuesday brought some UC students to tears and left others unsure, according to Alex Delgadillo, who oversees services for undocumented students and special populations at UC Merced. "A lot of questions in the regards, 'Will I be able to continue my education?' " he said, parroting students.
With or without DACA, California's Assembly Bill 540 allows young undocumented immigrants who fit certain requirements to qualify for in-state tuition.
After Trump’s November victory, officials at UC Merced and Merced College reaffirmed the schools’ commitment to Dreamers. And, on Tuesday, UC President Janet Napolitano reiterated that campus police will not detain students based on immigration status nor work with federal law enforcement to identify those students.
California Democrats blistered President Donald Trump and vowed swift action in response to the plan to phase out legal protections for more than 200,000 young people living in the state who came here illegally. Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he is readying a lawsuit against the Trump administration, while legislative leaders are discussing further measures to shield the unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, called the White House plan a "significant step backwards," saying the young immigrants have never known any country other than the U.S.
"These Dreamers were brought to the United States as young children, and for them, America is their home," he said in a statement. "They are our neighbors – many of them are students."
Along with the UC Merced population, roughly 1,000 Dreamers attend Fresno State, he said. "Congress must pass legislation that provides our Dreamers protections similar to those under DACA before these protections are eliminated," he said.