Asian American advocacy group, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), is currently one week into a marathon 22-day vigil in front of the White House. Activists with NAKASEC are protesting Republican efforts to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) programs, two programs that grant protection from deportation and offers work authorization to certain undocumented immigrants.
DACA was implemented in 2012 as a program to provide protection for undocumented immigrants who are current (or recently graduated) students, who have no criminal history, and who who were brought to the United States as young children. Undocumented immigrants registered under DACA — known colloquially as Dreamers — were raised knowing only America as their home. Yet, without deportation protection, they are at-risk of being detained and removed by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to a totally unfamiliar country. TPS is a program that provides deportation relief for undocumented immigrants whose lives would be at risk due to war or environmental catastrophe if they were returned to their countries of origin; currently, TPS covers undocumented immigrants from El Savador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Currently, there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. That number includes nearly 800,000 registered Dreamers and some advocacy groups estimate that they are part of the over 1.8 million immigrants who potentially qualify for DACA including over 100,000 young immigrants from Asian countries. Although the vast majority of Americans (including three-fourths of Trump voters) support federal protection for Dreamers and a majority oppose repeal of DACA, the fate of America’s Dreamers remain precarious under Trump.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to end the DACA program, saying in a speech: “we will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties” referring to DACA and a separate program that protected the parents of Dreamers. Upon election, however, Trump moved to continue DACA, telling Dreamers that they “shouldn’t be very worried.” This past week, though, breaking news suggested that Trump might once again reverse his position on DACA. The White House floated the idea of offering Dreamers as a bargaining chip to Democrats in exchange for building a wall along the US-Mexico border. Reports McClatchy:
The White House officials want Trump to strike an ambitious deal with Congress that offers Dreamers protection in exchange for legislation that pays for a border wall and more detention facilities, curbs legal immigration and implements E-verify, an online system that allows businesses to check immigration status, according to a half-dozen people familiar with situation, most involved with the negotiations.
(Democrats have responded by saying that the president should not attach heartless and insensitive political strings to amnesty for undocumented immigrants.)
This news coincides with threatened legal action from the governors of ten conservative states who say they will sue the federal government unless the president repeals DACA. Those governors have given Trump a deadline of September 5th to begin phasing out the program.
If the president chooses to end DACA — either because of pending legal action or in retaliation for not receiving funding for his “great wall” — hundreds of thousands of registered Dreamers will lose employment authorization (ending their ability to work and earn a living), and they will face imprisonment in an ICE detainment facility as well as eventual deportation.
The lives and livelihoods of Dreamers and undocumented immigrants are not political bargaining chips to be treated callously. Immigrants are not political pawns to be traded transactionally by an uncaring and xenophobic president and his administration. All immigrants deserve the stability of legal status and the opportunity to build a future in America. It is imperative that in the coming weeks, we join immigrants rights activists in rallying to the defense of DACA and TPS.
To highlight the plight of America’s Dreamers, NAKASEC launched a 22-day, 24-hr vigil — called “DREAM Action” (#DreamAction17) — outside of the White House last week. Until September 5th — the deadline imposed by the ten conservative governors threatening legal action — a cohort of activists from NAKASEC will remain on the streets in front of the White House at all hours of the day, drawing attention to Dreamers and other immigrants who are at-risk of detainment and deportation if DACA and TPS programs are ended. Explaining the rationale for the vigil, NAKASEC writes:
Mean-spirited anti-immigrant politics and the Trump Administration’s constant attacks on immigrant communities is reaching a crisis point. Two critical programs – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protective Status (TPS) are in danger. DACA is under imminent threat of lawsuit by TX Attorney General along with nine states, and TPS is facing threat of cancellation by the Administration. DACA provides eligible immigrant youth the chance to live, study, and work without fear of deportation for a temporary period. Nearly 800,000 young people are currently pursuing their hopes and dreams, freed from constant fear of getting torn from their families by immigration enforcement, thanks to DACA protection. Similarly, Temporary Protective Status (TPS) has opened hundreds of thousands of opportunities to approximately 400,000 people, but may not be renewed for Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador.
Also, if you are in the DC area, please stop by the front of the White House to join the vigil and lend your support to activists!