In apparent defiance of a recent U.S. Supreme Court order, the Trump administration moved to shut down any new applications to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, program that protects undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as kids from deportation. 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.
But 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 adds, “[…] non-enforcement policies like DACA may contribute to the general problem of illegal immigration […]”
The president was asked if he’d 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.
But the president’s actually threading a political needle. A recent Pew Center survey shows 74% of Americans, including more than half of Republicans, favor a law granting legal permanent status to DACA recipients who came to the United States illegally as children. But Congress remains stalled on the issue, and critics say when facing a November election, Trump 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 ICE 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 whole 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.