Washington – As the Trump administration moves to crack down on undocumented immigrants, more than 8,500 youths in Connecticut, known as “Dreamers,” who were given temporary legal status, are hoping they won’t be next.
Draft memos written by Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly contain new guidelines that would tighten immigration enforcement on asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors entering the country and speed deportation proceedings. The two memos also offer details of plans to hire thousands of new border patrol agents.
While the memos lay out plans to overturn key immigration policies initiated by President Obama through executive actions, they are silent on one of the former president’s most far-reaching changes to U.S. immigration policy – granting temporary legal status to about 750,000 youths who were brought to this country by undocumented parents.
Immigrant youth in the state are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
Some hope the president will find some way to keep most of them in legal standing, but most are panicked by the prospect of losing the provisional legal standing that allowed them to find jobs and borrow money for college. Worse yet, they face the prospect of deportation to countries many left before they were old enough to enroll in kindergarten.
Cliver Rosfrano, 25, of Stamford, was brought to the United States from Venezuela by his parents when he was 3 years old. He received his temporary legal status in 2012. He says he worries about his job and his life in the United States if Trump revokes his legal status.
“I have this fear in the back of my mind that if I get in trouble, I’m out of here,” he said. “I’d be sent to a homeland that I don’t know. While on paper I was born in Venezuela, I do not know anything about it. I was pretty much raised here.”
An Obama executive order, known as Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, temporarily legalized the status of children and young adults who were brought to this country by their parents without documentation.
Immigration advocates think President Trump could revoke DACA as soon as this week. But during an often chaotic press conference Thursday, Trump promised to “show a great heart.”
“DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me,” he said. “You have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases. In some of the cases they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers too … But you have some absolutely incredible kids…they were brought here in such a way – it’s a very, very tough subject.”
Trump also said, “The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me as I love these kids. I love kids. I have kids and grandkids, and I find it very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and, you know, the law is rough. It’s very, very rough.”
“I think he is genuinely confused,” said Doug Penn, an immigration attorney in Stamford. “The DACA kids are very sympathetic. They grew up here, they sound American, they look American and they are very eloquent and politically active.”
Since Trump was elected in November, Dreamers and their allies have protested Trump’s campaign vow to end DACA on college campuses across the nation, including Yale and the University of Connecticut.
Penn says he thinks Trump recognizes the “bad optics” of deporting up to 750,000 DACA youths, about 8,500 of them in Connecticut, and it is giving the president pause.
Trump might decide to repeal Obama’s rule and issue a new one that tightens qualifications for granting temporary legal status.
Under the DACA program, applicants are carefully screened for criminal records, a process that immigrant advocates say culls out the “gang members” Trump said benefit from the program.
A DACA recipient must renew his or her status every two years, each time submitting to fingerprinting and a new background check.
An applicant can have no more than three “insignificant” misdemeanors, which include minor traffic offenses, such as a speeding ticket or a ticket for driving without a license.
However “significant” misdemeanors, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, drug trafficking or unlawful possession of a firearm disqualifies a young person from DACA. Trump could tighten those already strict qualifications or put other limitations on the program.
Penn also hopes that if Trump revokes DACA, he urges Congress to pass the Bridge Act, legislation that would allows those qualified under DACA to apply for and receive “provisional protected presence” and work authorization for a three-year period. In fact, the Bridge Act would make DACA into law.
Republicans, however, have resisted the legislation and would need a big push from Trump to embrace it.
Revocation without fingerprints
Immigrant advocates have been advising immigrant youth to renew their status but telling first-time applicants to wait so their information is not available to federal immigration authorities.
They also say the way DACA is structured may allow Trump to get rid of it without having to do anything himself.
New Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vocal critic of DACA, could order a legal review of DACA. If the Justice Department determines the program is not legal, the Department of Homeland Security would be instructed to stop awarding and renewing work permits.
DHS also could simply instruct the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to stop issuing work permits, the same way DHS under Obama first created DACA with a 2012 memo.
Lucas Codognolla, executive director of Connecticut Students for a DREAM, said those are ways DACA could be effectively gutted.
“It could be an opportunity to rescind DACA without Trump having his fingerprints on it,” Codognolla said.
Codognolla, 26, who came to the United States with his parents from Brazil when he was 9 years old, said, “There’s a lot of fear in the community.”
“We’re trying to figure out what happens to our employment and to the things we have accomplished under DACA,” he said.
To Codognolla, Dreamers should press an economic argument that might resonate with Trump – that Dreamers pay taxes and add to the gross domestic product of the nation.
“I know DACA recipients, who are bankers, engineers, who work in hedge funds, everywhere,” he said.
Aleksandr Troyb, the chairman of the Connecticut chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he’s concerned an immediate repeal of DACA will leave those who had sought its protections vulnerable to federal immigration law that bars those who have lived illegally in the United States for more than six months from re-entry in the country for three years. Those who have lived illegally in the country for a year or more are barred from re-entry for 10 years.
“If this order is rescinded, then all of these kids will start accumulating time,” Troyb said.
Not all Dreamers are pessimistic.
“I don’t think Trump is going to revoke DACA, It would be a public relations nightmare,” said Carolina Bortolleto, co-founder of Connecticut Students for a Dream.