Minnesota DACA recipients worry over White House's moves

June 24, 2017 - 8:35 AM

Edgar Gomez was thrilled to land a job working with English learners in two south metro elementary schools before he had even completed his teaching degree. But all spring, he braced for an announcement that would take away the job and his permission to teach.

Gomez was relieved when the Trump administration announced this month that it would keep an Obama program for immigrants brought here as children, at least for now. On the campaign trail, the president had vowed to scrap Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which grants two-year work permits and shields recipients from deportation.

“DACA was the sole reason I was standing in front of those kids,” Gomez said.
But Trump’s reluctance to end the program disappointed some of his supporters, who see DACA as a symbol of Obama’s executive overreach to reward families who flouted the nation’s immigration laws. Uncertainty remains for roughly 6,255 DACA recipients in Minnesota.

Last week, the Trump administration also officially rescinded another Obama-era deportation reprieve program — for parents of U.S. citizen children — which had remained mired in the courts.

Signs of softening

Gomez’s anxiety about the future of DACA came to a head in February, when his permit was up for renewal and he expected the president to end the program any day.
Gomez, who was 8 when his parents crossed the border illegally from Mexico, says he owes a lot to the program. He was able to work and afford his studies at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. The program allowed him to envision a career as an educator helping kids with the same language and academic challenges he encountered as a child. But now, an administration committed to tougher enforcement of the country’s immigration laws had all his personal information, along with that of about 750,000 other DACA recipients nationally, informally known as Dreamers.

Trump pledged during his campaign he would eliminate the program on his first day in office. But more recent remarks, in which he referred to DACA recipients as “incredible kids,” signal a softening stance.

Last week, the administration said it was ending Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA, which would have offered three-year work permits and deportation reprieves to an estimated 3.6 million people. The program was challenged by 26 states, which argued it was unconstitutional and would incur public benefit and other costs. Last year a divided Supreme Court let stand an injunction blocking it.
But, the administration said, DACA will continue, and the government won’t revoke work permits issued through the program.

The twin rulings set up a tug of war for Gomez. His parents would have been eligible for DAPA; he has a younger brother who was born in the United States. If one of his parents is deported, he says he plans to move to Mexico with his family. But, he said, “Knowing now that DACA will stay is a relief for me and my family.”

Trump supporters wary, too.

Advocates for reducing immigration, such as Dan Stein at the group Federation for American Immigration Reform, applauded the demise of DAPA. But he said in a statement that DACA represents “a similar example of an executive overreach based on the same flawed legal principle.”

He and other Trump supporters decry the steady clip of applications and approvals for the program during Trump’s first months in office, which outpaced those in the final months under Obama.

While DACA doesn’t offer most recipients a path to citizenship, some with U.S. citizen spouses can use the program to obtain permanent residence. That has led to charges that the Obama administration opened a back door to legalization and added to frustration that the new government has let it stand.

But at the Golden Valley-based Center of the American Experiment, Vice President Kim Crockett, a supporter of the president’s harder line on immigration, says he is making the right call on DACA. The American public is sympathetic toward young people who did not choose to come illegally and who largely grew up here, she says.

“What the president is doing is showing mercy and human understanding,” Crockett said.

Uncertainty remains: White House officials say the president might yet reconsider. A string of high-profile arrests of DACA recipients nationally has alarmed other immigrants — though the government said each had become ineligible for the program, because of a DWI conviction or failure to renew on time, for instance.

Brenda Marquez says she remains anxious as she prepares to renew her DACA status. Marquez, who was 2 when she came from Mexico, is a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and a youth mentor at Waite House, a community center in Minneapolis.

“The ability to come out of the shadows was so important,” she said. “But this is not reassuring at all. It won’t be reassuring until something happens that’s permanent.”
Natalia Marchan, a DACA recipient from Peru and social work student at Minnesota State University Mankato, says the program stands the best chance of surviving if young immigrants continue to advocate and speak out about their experiences. In Minnesota, Dreamers have highlighted a recent Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy study estimating they contribute as much as $15 million in local and state taxes.

“The Dreamer community is still in a vulnerable place,” she said. “But being silent is not going to protect us.”

Virgil Wiebe, a University of St. Thomas immigration law professor, said DACA recipients should continue to renew their status: They are already on the government’s radar. But first-time applicants need to weigh the risks, consider consulting an attorney and make a personal decision.

At Waite House, Director Francisco Segovia says he no longer flat-out discourages first-time DACA applications. But he remains reluctant to endorse the idea when families ask him for advice.

“Fortunately, I don’t have a child I have to support in applying for DACA,” he said. “It’s confusing for parents who have to assess this situation.”