Young US im­mi­grants wor­ried about fu­ture

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of young im­mi­grants liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally will­ingly came out of the shad­ows and iden­ti­fied them­selves to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on the prom­ise that they’d be safe from de­por­ta­tion and al­lowed to work. Some may now re­gret that de­ci­sion. Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has promised to im­me­di­ately scrap the pro­gram that pro­tected these im­mi­grants. If he does, it’s not clear whether he would take ac­tion against the more than 741,000 par­tic­i­pants. But if he de­cides to pur­sue them, the gov­ern­ment now has their ad­dresses, pho­to­graphs and fin­ger­prints.

Twenty-year-old Nancy Vil­las was among the first to ap­ply for the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram in the sum­mer of 2012, wait­ing in line hours at a sign-up site at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Since then she’s been work­ing part time at a child care cen­ter to pay for col­lege classes. Now she’s wor­ried she may even­tu­ally be forced to re­turn to Mex­ico, a coun­try she left when she was 9. “I knew it was the only way to have bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Vil­las said. “I took the risk with­out think­ing that some­body would want to take it away.”

Trump made il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion the cor­ner­stone of his cam­paign, promis­ing to build a mas­sive wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der and de­port mil­lions of peo­ple liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally. Once he takes of­fice, Trump can al­most im­me­di­ately re­scind the promised pro­tec­tion and, with it, likely void the ac­com­pa­ny­ing work per­mits. But there is lit­tle to sug­gest that he would move swiftly to de­port pro­gram par­tic­i­pants. In a post­elec­tion in­ter­view with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Trump said he would focus ini­tially on crim­i­nal im­mi­grants liv­ing il­le­gally in the US. He said that could be about 2 mil­lion to 3 mil­lion peo­ple, though that fig­ure is likely in­flated.

Mark Kriko­rian, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for Cen­ter For Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, said the fears of pro­gram par­tic­i­pants may be overblown. “Un­less there’s a crime is­sue or some­thing spe­cific that’s go­ing to draw at­ten­tion to an in­di­vid­ual, I can’t see how they’d be a pri­or­ity,” said Kriko­rian, whose think-tank de­scribes it­self as low-im­mi­gra­tion, pro-im­mi­grant.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ini­ti­ated the pro­gram to shield from de­por­ta­tion young im­mi­grants, some of whom don’t even re­mem­ber their na­tive coun­tries. It didn’t give the im­mi­grants le­gal sta­tus, only “de­ferred ac­tion” - mean­ing they wouldn’t face de­por­ta­tion while they par­tic­i­pated. There was never a guar­an­tee that it would last be­yond Obama’s term as pres­i­dent. A for­mer im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial who helped craft the pro­gram, John Sandweg, said the White House and the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment con­sid­ered the re­al­ity that a fu­ture pres­i­dent could end it. But at the time, he said, it ap­peared that re­vok­ing al­ready-ap­proved pro­tec­tions would be po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult.

“These are the kinds of kids you should bring out of the shad­ows,” said Sandweg, a for­mer act­ing di­rec­tor of Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. “I don’t think any­one en­vi­sioned a Pres­i­dent Trump when this was cre­ated.” Trump wasn’t sub­tle about his op­po­si­tion to the pro­gram. He called it an “il­le­gal amnesty” and promised to “im­me­di­ately ter­mi­nate” the pro­gram. And since win­ning of­fice, Trump has said he will nom­i­nate im­mi­gra­tion hard­liner Sen Jeff Ses­sions as at­tor­ney gen­eral. As he con­sid­ers other Cabi­net va­can­cies, Trump has met with Kansas Sec­re­tary of State Kris Kobach, who led his state’s court fight to pre­vent an ex­pan­sion of the de­por­ta­tion pro­tec­tion plan.

When the pro­gram started, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sug­gested that ap­pli­ca­tion files would not gen­er­ally be used for en­force­ment ef­forts. US Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices ad­dressed the con­cern in its pub­lished “fre­quently asked ques­tions,” say­ing in­for­ma­tion would be shared with en­force­ment of­fi­cials only if some­one “meets the cri­te­ria” for de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings. But re­vok­ing the de­por­ta­tion pro­tec­tion would make those young im­mi­grants al­most im­me­di­ately el­i­gi­ble to face de­por­ta­tion.

Sandweg said go­ing af­ter par­tic­i­pants would be a mas­sive lo­gis­ti­cal un­der­tak­ing that would only worsen back­logs in an al­ready over­bur­dened im­mi­gra­tion court sys­tem where many peo­ple wait years for a fi­nal de­ci­sion. Adding about 750,000 to the court sys­tem “would do noth­ing for pub­lic safety,” Sandweg said. Nonethe­less, the mere prospect of that has prompted some Demo­cratic law­mak­ers to ask Obama to pro­tect these im­mi­grants with par­dons be­fore he leaves of­fice.

And ad­vo­cates for the young im­mi­grants have pledged to keep up their fight to win pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal sup­port for over­haul­ing im­mi­gra­tion laws. “We or­ga­nized across the coun­try, we shared our sto­ries pub­licly and we came to­gether. We took di­rect ac­tions and held politi­cians ac­count­able,” said Cristina Jimenez, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and co-founder of United We Dream. Un­der a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, Jimenez said, that won’t change. —AP

In this Nov 17, 2016 photo, Nancy Vil­las stands on a street in Chicago. —AP

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