In apparent defiance of a recent U.S. Supreme Court order, the Trump administration moved to shut down any new applications to DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as kids. It would also force current program participants to reapply every year instead of biannually.
“You know, it’s a lot of feelings of, what now? What does this truly mean? It’s just getting your hopes up and down constantly,” said Deya Aldana, a DACA recipient and representative for Make the Road New Jersey.
“The Trump administration is blatantly disregarding the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court to restore DACA in its 2012 form, which means accepting new applications, which means continuing to renew applications,” said Make the Road New Jersey director Sara Cullinane.
In a memo, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf wrote, “I have determined that some changes should immediately be made to the policy to limit its scope in the interim. […]” while he gives “[…] thorough consideration of how to address DACA in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.”
Wolf added, “[…] non-enforcement policies like DACA may contribute to the general problem of illegal immigration […].”
President Trump was asked if he would consider a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
“We are going to make DACA happy, and the DACA people and representatives happy, and we’re also going to end up with a fantastic, merit-based immigration system,” Trump said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Trump and electoral calculations
The president is actually threading a political needle. A recent Pew Center survey showed that 74% of Americans, including more than half of Republicans, favor a law granting legal permanent status to DACA recipients who came to the U.S. illegally as children. Congress remains stalled on the issue and critics say that Trump, facing a November election, won’t try to rescind DACA, but cripple it instead.
“One way is clearly to place hurdles in the path of DACA recipients, slow down the process, create a chilling effect among immigrant communities,” said Maneesha Kelkar, interim director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.
“The way we look at this is awfully strategic on their end, right? The election cycle is here. They don’t want this to be an election issue,” Aldana said.
Meanwhile, the legal battles against deportations by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency continue. But New Jersey’s $3 million program providing free legal counsel to undocumented defendants has made a big difference over the past couple years, advocates say.
“We found that 52% of individuals represented by a state-funded attorney were able to win release from detention and reunite with their family,” said Cullinane.
As for the Wolf memo, it’s expected to end up back in court. For DACA recipients, the issue is, by default, on November’s ballot.
“I have to fight for a lot of those young people, a lot of my family who are DACA-eligible, to just make sure we either win again or figure out what’s next,” said Aldana.