In a surprise announcement on the 5th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Trump administration announced yesterday that it would reverse one of the president’s campaign promises and would instead continue the popular federal program. Founded in 2012, DACA granted renewable permits to undocumented immigrants who had been brought into the United States as children, protecting them from deportation and allowing them to work.
However, yesterday also saw U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly sign a memorandum to roll back a program proposed by the Obama administration in 2014 called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). DAPA was intended to provide legal protections for the undocumented parents of American citizens or residents in an effort to not break up immigrant families. That program was never put into place due to legal challenges in federal court filed by 26 states led by Republican governors.
In January, Trump was quoted as saying about undocumented immigrants, “They are here illegally. They shouldn’t be very worried. I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody.” However, it is clear by yesterday’s dual announcements that the Trump administration is less interested in “taking care of everybody”, and more interested in taking care of Trump’s approval rating.
The rationale behind both DACA and DAPA is the Left’s general belief in humane immigration law. The federal government, in other words, should not be in the business of breaking up families and separating parents from their children, particularly when neither parent nor child pose demonstrable risks to public safety. Indeed, studies routinely show that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, and instead contribute nearly $12 billion dollars in state and local taxes. Many come to the United States to escape economic insecurity or other harsh conditions, and — like most immigrants — are only interested in building a better, safer life for their children in America.
Yet, federal immigration law which seeks to persecute, prosecute, and criminalize undocumented immigrants only succeeds in wasting taxpayer dollars to destabilized and break up immigrant families, to deport people who often have lived peacefully for years in America to a country they may not know, and to drive the remaining immigrant population deeper into the shadows. Whereas programs like DACA have been shown to significantly improve the wellness and outcomes for those who receive protection, immigrants deported by the United States government undergo significant personal and emotional stress — as do their children who remain in the United States. It is unclear if deportees ever fully recover from the experience of being forcibly separated from their homes and families by the U.S. government; for example, a Korean American adoptee who was adopted at age 10 by an American family but who was deported to Korea in 2012 was found dead of suicide last month.
Indeed, the Trump administration’s targeting of the undocumented and documented immigrant community deeply impacts Asian Americans. Nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born, and 1.6 million — or about 8% — of Asian Americans are undocumented. In fact, Asians comprise the fastest-growing population of undocumented immigrants in the country.
When Donald Trump whips up anti-immigrant hysteria against undocumented immigrant communities, Asian Americans will be among the many immigrants who suffer.
Alexandra Suh, director of community advocacy group the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) – which advocates on behalf of many Americans of Korean and Latin origin living its community – told Al Jazeera that about 20 percent of Korean Americans are undocumented.
“Everyone is living in this silent fear,” says Suh.
“We had a member who said, when her father passed away, she wanted nothing more than to go to Korea to attend the funeral, but she couldn’t. And not only could she not go because she [wasn’t sure if she would] come back, she also couldn’t share that pain with close friends, because they didn’t know she was undocumented,” Suh adds.
Today, immigrant advocates are hailing the continuation of DACA — and rightfully so. But we must also be wary of lessening our pressure on the federal government: that they can announce in the same breath the continuation of DACA with the end of DAPA is an indication that this administration is no friend to American immigrants. Trump is not interested in sensible, compassionate, and just immigration policy. He is not interested in keeping immigrant families — including Asian and Asian American immigrant families — intact.
For more about the intersection of federal immigration policy and the AAPI community, please check out NBC Asian America’s newest documentary series: Deported by filmmaker Sahra V. Nguyen, which focuses on the deportation of Southeast Asian American refugees by the US government. The first episode is embedded below, the remaining episodes are here.