Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
On Sept. 5, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program will be terminated in six months. As of Sept. 5, no new DACA applications will be processed, and individuals seeking renewals to their work permits will need to apply by Oct. 5. This program has provided work permits and protection from deportation for nearly 800,000 individuals who immigrated to the United States as children, including many members of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ congregations. Following the 2013 Mennonite Church USA convention in Phoenix and the passage of a churchwide resolution on immigration justice, MC USA launched the DREAMer fund, which helped provide financial assistance and cover fees involved with applying for DACA.
Following the announcement, Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington Office put out a call to action urging individuals to contact their representatives and senators to urge support for the Dream Act, a bipartisan effort at protection for Dreamers that both the House and Senate are considering. Hannah Heinzekehr sat down with Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate for the Mennonite Central Committee Washington office, and Saulo Padilla, immigration education coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee U.S., to ask them about what happens next.
Hannah Heinzekehr: So talk us through what this decision will mean. Some have said this now means there is more urgent pressure on Congress to actually address protection for Dreamers. From your perspectives, what happens now?
Tammy Alexander: On the one hand, yes, there could be a silver lining in that we could get a long-term solution, like the Dream Act, which would be an improvement over DACA. But it feels like a really cruel way to force that legislation, and it’s gambling with the lives of DACA recipients. There is no guarantee that Congress will pass the Dream Act. There are also other pieces of legislation out there that are less protective than the Dream Act and provide less protection than DACA. You could end up with legislation that protects some DACA recipients and not all.
Another concern is that there will be an effort to combine Dream Act-type legislation with additional funding for more border security and enforcement or funding for a border wall.
Saulo Padilla: Yes, I think this is a cruel way to push Congress to consider legislation, and it’s at the expense of Dreamers. There would be ways of doing this differently and keeping DACA while still pushing Congress to work on this as well or giving a deadline to Congress and continuing to extend DACA. This action causes a lot of fear and the anxiety for families and immigrant communities. Today I was looking at Sue Park Hur’s post yesterday on ReconciliAsian’s Facebook page [Park Hur is the co-director of ReconciliAsian, a Korean Anabaptist peacebuilding network]. It’s not only Hispanic communities but so many communities that are afraid now because of this decision. It’s bad news for all of us and bad news especially for immigrant communities in the United States.
HH: Tammy, I know the MCC Washington Office puts out regular action alerts and educational pieces. In addition to following this news, what steps would you urge people to take?
TA: Yes, follow action alerts. The most important thing now is for people to contact their members of Congress and push for passage of the Dream Act. Most groups have been pushing to keep DACA up until today. That has been the focus. Don’t cancel DACA. Now that an announcement has been made about DACA’s end, we will very likely see everyone pivot to the Dream Act. It will be about pushing for Congress to take good action within six months and pushing for Congress not to pair legislation with border security and additional enforcement.
SP: More than ever, it’s important for people to talk to their representatives and come to Washington, D.C. Tammy, Iris de Leon-Hartshorn [MC USA Director of Transformative Peacemaking] and I are working on a delegation to bring recent immigrant pastors to D.C. in March. We were planning for the first week of March, but this decision today pushes things. March 6 is the deadline for this. We will have to rethink that date and encourage more people to go.
TA: In addition to people writing their members of Congress, people can show up for any local actions that take place. It’s always great if you can come to D.C. and participate in big rallies, but no doubt there will be rallies in support of the Dream Act all over the country and for people to support those will be very important.
In today’s press conference, Sessions continued to put out some falsehoods, including that DACA was responsible for the increase in asylum seekers from Central America. There has not been shown to be a connection, but there is a direct connection between levels of violence in Central America and children coming to the United States. Sessions also said that DACA was causing job losses for U.S. citizens, which is also untrue. Those are things that we’ll have to continue to speak about and myths that we’ll have to dispel.
HH: How does this conversation fit into other conversations about immigration reform and justice? How will this affect MCC’s work on immigration justice in the future?
TA: We’re struggling on so many different fronts with immigration due to Trump polices that focus on enforcement and militarizing the border. I haven’t given much thought to how it’s going to affect documentation programs and work in the field.
SA: I’m not sure I know yet. Fear will increase, and there will be more people asking questions. The government has done a really good job of breaking the immigration system. There are so many fronts we are fighting. Sanctuary and deportations is one of them. Detention is another one. And there are still the issues of refugees and asylum seekers. All these have become different fronts and concerns. This is how fragmented the immigration system is. It’s hard because, Which issue do we choose to put our efforts into? We’re trying to put our efforts into all of them, but it’s hard.
TA: We’re going to be getting a lot of questions about what this means, when work permits will expire, then just trying to point people to credible resources will be very important. Effective immediately, [the government] won’t accept any new applicants for DACA, but [it] will process those already in the system. You might have folks who get approved tomorrow and will get a two-year work permit. That would still be good, but if there’s not new legislation, those would expire in two years. Some estimates are that you’d have about 1,000 work permits per day expiring after DACA is terminated, if there is no additional legislation. Trump has said that former DACA recipients won’t be a target for deportation, but we’ve heard that before, and right now it’s looking like everyone is a target.
On our action alert there’s a link to a story about a young man named Dmarcos from Miami, Florida. He’s a Dreamer and just getting ready to go to college. His story is a good example of what DACA means to people and who DACA has been helping. Read Dmarcos’ story.
HH: Saulo, I know you’ve also spoken to paying attention to economic arguments for supporting DACA but not focusing solely on those. Could you say a bit more about that?
SP: In the last few weeks, the way that DACA has been defended is through economic arguments and by putting dollar signs on Dreamers. And yes, we can use that. We know there would be a negative economic impact if DACA ended. But when that’s all we are using to defend Dreamers or immigrants, that’s not enough. Immigrants are people who deserve rights. People coming to the U.S. deserve an immigration system that is working properly. As Christians, we should work toward laws working justly. That should be our focus. I’m not against talking in economic terms, but I also want to be having the other conversation that people deserve human rights. The right to move to a safer place is a human right.
You can also read the MCC Washington Office’s blog after the announcement this morning and check out a list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Dream Act.
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