Young immigrants currently protected from deportation will be quickly removed from the country by President Donald Trump’s plan to boost deportations, even if the new president doesn’t target them directly, according to a former senior immigration official in the Obama administration.
Democratic leaders and advocates within the immigration community are bracing for Trump on Monday to eliminate several of Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including the deferred action program, known as DACA, that protects an estimated 750,000 immigrants brought here illegally as children.
Trump is not expected to immediately launch raids targeting the students, but fears among so-called Dreamers could grow as Trump executes plans to deport more than 2 million immigrants with any form of criminal records. In the process he’s inevitably going to sweep up many DACA students who will unlikely have the safeguards to protect themselves.
Leon Fresco, who headed the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration, said even if Trump doesn’t terminate the program or promises not to directly pursue the young immigrants – as he has implied – more than a thousand will likely be targeted in deportation raids, including those with orders of removal and minor criminal records.
“DACA kids will in the very near future, in a matter of weeks, be apprehended as part of these sweeps of unexecuted orders of removal,” said Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general for the department’s civil division.
Because the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is a form of prosecutorial discretion, it’s not a real status and can be revoked at any time.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security told DACA recipients that their personal information would not be used for enforcement purposes, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be swept up in other enforcement actions, Fresco warned.
DACA kids will in the very near future, in the matter of weeks, be apprehended as part of these sweeps of unexecuted orders of removal.
Leon Fresco, former senior Obama official
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement already has a list of thousands of people and families with existing orders of removal that have not been executed. Many of those are DACA recipients who missed a court date and were ordered removed in absentia. Others may have parents who applied for asylum and lost their cases.
The Obama administration did not keep an exact figure of DACA recipients who had previous orders of removal, Fresco said, but it’s understood that more than 1,000 DACA recipients fall in the category.
Trump campaigned hard against illegal immigration, promising to build a wall, boost deportations and eliminate the youth program.
He has since said he wants to “work something out” for the so-called Dreamers, but is still expected to cancel the program to send a message to supporters who feel Obama wrongly granted amnesty to hundreds of thousands of immigrants here illegally.
The young immigrants are already protesting at many colleges and demanding legal aid in case Trump takes action. Fresco, who now represents universities, sees a potential nightmare scenario for a school if one or several of its students are swept up in a raid. It would immediately create ripples of fear throughout the foreign student body who won’t know why one of their classmates was apprehended.
“They will think its part of an effort to target DACA students and that is certain to create immediate spread of fear throughout DACA students going back into hiding and not going to school,” Fresco said.
Democratic leaders say they’re ready to fight any effort to overturn Obama’s policies, take students work permits or increase deportations against hard working immigrants.
“We will not build a stupid wall,” said Elizabeth Warren, during a Women’s March in Boston Saturday. “We will not tear millions of families apart. Not on our watch”
It’s not just Democrats who want to protect the DACA students. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has joined Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, on legislation that would provide DACA recipients three years of deportation protection and work permits. Graham and Durbin were members of the bipartisan group of senators who wrote immigration legislation that included a citizenship opportunity for millions of people in the United States illegally.
Graham called the DACA program unconstitutional and said Trump would be right to repeal it, but added that his proposed legislation is needed to give Congress time to seek a permanent solution.
“I do not believe we should pull the rug out and push these young men and women -- who came out of the shadows and registered with the federal government -- back into the darkness,” Graham said in a statement.
Congressional staffers anticipate Trump will either invalidate the deferred action program or allow existing work permits to expire as Republican leaders such as Newt Gingrich have suggested.
“We don’t know how they will kill it,” said one Democratic Hill staffer who was not authorized to speak publicly about the strategy.
Fresco doesn’t expect Trump to target DACA students, but he’ll eliminate the safeguards they had. For example, in the past, if a DACA student was arrested in an immigration raid or some other action, he or she could simply call a 24-hour hotline manned by federal officials who would fix their case. Fresco said the Trump administration could simply close the hotline office.
“That hotline, no one is going to answer the phone,” Fresco said.