DACA and what it means for thousands of Coloradans
The Trump administration’s announcement last week that it was ending an immigration policy for undocumented minor children brought to this country by their parents has generated protests from those opposed to the decision plan and legislation from Congress designed to blunt all or part of the administration’s plan.
Nearly 800,000 minors, most coming from Mexico, have entered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, put into place by President Barack Obama by executive order in 2012. Federal immigration services estimate more than 17,000 Coloradans are among them.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday, Sept. 5, that the program would end in six months, on March 5, 2018. In his remarks, Sessions said the program “essentially provided a legal status for recipients for a renewable two-year term, work authorization and other benefits, including participation in the Social Security program.”
Sessions called the program “an unconstitutional exercise of authority” by the Obama administration and an end-run around Congress, which has repeatedly stalled in its efforts to enact immigration reform.
Sessions also claimed, without evidence, that the program “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
In a 2017 study, The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, said 91 percent of DACA participants, known as Dreamers, held jobs; 93 percent of those 25 years and older were employed. However, several economists said Sessions’ claim that Dreamers took jobs away from U.S. residents is rated as false.
That included Ray Perryman, president and CEO of the Texas economic research firm the Perryman Group, who told National Public Radio earlier last week that the nation is at full employment, with more job openings than at any point in history. “We desperately need workers in this country,” he added.
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition said Thursday, Sept. 7, that 24,917 young Coloradans are DACA eligible, and that more than 95 percent work and contribute to the state’s economy, paying as much as $25 million in state and local taxes. Deporting those residents would cost the state $857 million in gross domestic product, according to the group.
In a letter to congressional leaders, signatories from four of the state’s major business organizations, including Kelly Brough, head of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, said, “These young people are crucial to our state’s economic future, and it makes business sense to keep them in the country and allow them to work here.”
President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday, Sept. 5, that Congress now has six months to come up with legislation to fix the program, and if it fails to act “I’ll revisit this issue,” leading to confusion about whether the president would do his own version of the program.
Colorado reaction is swift
In Colorado, reaction to the administration’s decision was swift, starting with protests and walkouts at high school and college campuses around the state.
Sens. Michael Bennet of Denver and Cory Gardner of Yuma immediately announced they would jointly sponsor the Dream Act of 2017.
In a statement, Bennet said, “While comprehensive immigration reform should remain a long-term solution, we also need a more immediate fix to protect Dreamers. I have long supported legislation that makes clear what we already know: Supporting Dreamers boosts our economy, strengthens our national security and aligns with our values. Congress must move quickly to pass this legislation.”
Gardner added, “Children who came to this country without documentation, through no fault of their own, must have the opportunity to remain here lawfully.” The Dream Act will “provide certainty to the thousands of law-abiding Coloradan Dreamers and demonstrate bipartisan leadership on this important issue.”
Under their bill, Dreamers under the age of 18 would be granted lawful permanent residency as long as they graduate from high school or obtain a GED; pursue higher education, work lawfully for at least three years or serve in the military; pass security checks; and demonstrate proficiency in English and a knowledge of U.S. history.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora also reacted Tuesday, Sept. 5, by initiating a “discharge petition” that would force a vote on a DACA-related bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. In January, Coffman introduced a bill, the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act, which would extend the DACA program for three years while Congress worked out more comprehensive immigration reform.
The measure is co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Louis Gutierrez of Illinois. But on Thursday, Sept. 7, under pressure from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Coffman dropped the discharge petition, which led Democrats to call Coffman’s petition nothing more than a political stunt.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, along with the governors of 10 other states, all Democrats, sent a letter to congressional leadership Wednesday, Sept. 6, urging them to authorize the program through legislation.
“We are a nation of laws, but we are also a nation of immigrants, compassion and common sense,” the governors wrote. “We strongly urge you to work together to take immediate action to ensure that these young people can continue to live, work and contribute to the country they have called home for most of their lives.”
Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the Trump administration over the decision to end DACA. The attorneys general of 15 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit to block actions on DACA on Wednesday, Sept. 6.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman was not among them.
Friday, Sept. 8, Janet Napolitano, who headed the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration and instituted the DACA program, announced the University of California had filed a lawsuit against DHS over the DACA program.
Napolitano is now the president of the University of California. In a statement, Napolitano called the Trump administration’s actions an “unreasoned executive whim.”
“The University faces the loss of vital members of its community, students and employees,” Napolitano said. “It is hard to imagine a decision less reasoned, more damaging or undertaken with less care. ... Defendants’ capricious rescission of the DACA program violates both the procedural and substantive requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.”
Support for the administration’s decision has been scant. Even those who have voted in the past to defund the program, including Republican Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez, have sided with the idea of authorizing the program through legislation and supporting the Dreamers.
Tipton said Tuesday, Sept. 5, that while the Obama administration circumvented Congress and the U.S. Constitution in setting up the program, “I believe Congress must act to develop a compassionate and commonsense solution for the children who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents.”
Tipton added that Dreamers, who have grown up in the United States, “are now upstanding, valued members of our communities. They should not be punished for a decision that was made by their parents years ago.”
One issue worrying Dreamers and their supporters is that under DACA, the U.S. government obtained their names and addresses, a condition of applying for the program. That has led some to say that this information gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement an easy way to find and deport them.
Trump told ABC News in January that DACA recipients had nothing to fear from him, saying, “They shouldn’t be very worried. I do have a big heart.”
Despite that statement, Dreamers are being held in federal custody, according to United We Dream, a DACA advocacy group, and at least one has already been deported to Mexico.
Friday, Sept. 8, Rep. Coffman and Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat, announced they would sponsor the Protect DREAMer Confidentiality Act of 2017, which would make information about DACA participants confidential. A similar measure, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico was introduced in January.