President Donald Trump has said that Dreamers — the young undocumented immigrants who had been largely shielded from deportation under the Obama administration — should “rest easy.” But a new batch of data from two federal immigration agencies shows that Dreamers are at a much higher risk of being kicked out of the country if they encounter police.
The number of Dreamers who lost their protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program due to alleged criminal activity increased more than 25 percent in the first three months of Trump’s presidency compared to the same period last year, according to data provided to VICE News by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The data shows a sharp uptick in DACA revocations starting during the final months of the Obama administration, when enrollment in the program swelled, and accelerating under Trump.
At least 43 former DACA recipients have been kicked out of the country under Trump because of alleged criminal activity, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Another 676 people who were once protected by DACA are currently facing deportation, including 90 who are being held in immigrant detention centers, though many of those cases began under Obama.
The data stretches from mid-2012 through March of this year and reflects the most updated information available from the two agencies. The relatively small amount of data from Trump’s tenure makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about his treatment of Dreamers, but the figures undisputably show that Obama-era protections for undocumented immigrants are easily lost, which leads to young people with longstanding ties to their communities being deported.
“[DACA] is a very precarious status,” said Anna Law, a professor at Brooklyn College who specializes in immigration issues and constitutional law. “The conservatives are saying it grants people lawful status to stay in the country. It does no such thing… it just says you are a non-priority for deportation. They could just strip the status and deport you.”
More than 762,000 young people who came to the country as children are currently enrolled in DACA, which also allows participants to work legally in the U.S. The program, created by Obama in 2012, has strict qualification criteria, including requirements for proof of long-term residency in the U.S. and an extensive criminal background check. Participants must reapply every two years, and the Department of Homeland Security says it can revoke the status “at any time, at the agency’s discretion.”
The recent data provided by Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Homeland Security agency that grants and revokes DACA status, shows that in the 2016 fiscal year, which ran from October 2015 to the following September, 786 people had their DACA status “terminated” because of “criminal activity.” In the first six months of the 2017 fiscal year, 327 people have had their DACA status revoked — more than double the number from the same period last year.
A Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson said nearly 90 percent of DACA revocations were the result of participants being linked to “alien smuggling, assaultive offenses, domestic violence, drug offenses, DUI, larceny and thefts, criminal trespass and burglary, sexual offenses with minors, other sex offenses and weapons offenses.” Roughly 3 percent were for alleged “gang activity,” and 7 percent were for a variety of relatively minor offenses, such as making a false claim of citizenship or collecting three or more misdemeanor convictions.
“Being deported is not just changing your address. For a lot of people it means a death sentence.”
Law noted that the exact nature of the crimes triggering DACA revocation — and subsequently deportation — remains unclear. For example, she speculated that a “drug offense” could amount to nothing more than “a dime bag of marijuana possession”; Citizenship and Immigration Services declined to provide a detailed breakdown of the offenses. Trump signed an executive order during his first week in office that makes virtually everyone who is in the country without authorization a priority for deportation, including those who have been only accused, not convicted, of crimes.
A Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson said the recent uptick in people losing DACA protection was not caused by any Trump edict but rather was the result of the agency receiving “more timely and detailed narratives of where and when disqualifying infractions” occurred.
ICE spokesperson Gillian Christensen said that as of Feb. 15, Citizenship and Immigration Services had provided ICE with information concerning 1,488 people whose DACA status had been revoked. Of those, 1,031 were subsequently booked into ICE custody.
Christensen said the agency has not received specific orders to target ex-DACA recipients, but he added that those recipients don’t receive preferential treatment either. “While certainly the focus is criminal aliens and egregious immigration violators,” she said, “there is no class exempt from the enforcement of immigration law.”
Two recent cases show that DACA is not a foolproof way to avoid being detained or deported even when no criminal offense has occurred. In early February, ICE agents arrested 23-year-old Daniel Ramirez Medina at his father’s home in the Seattle area. When Ramirez — he has no criminal record and a 3-year-old son who is a U.S. citizen — produced his DACA card, the ICE agents allegedly told him, “It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country.”
He spent nearly two months in a detention center and his case remains unresolved.
Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, 23, is currently suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection, alleging that he was wrongfully deported to Mexico on Feb. 17 despite having DACA protection. Montes, who had lived in the U.S. since he was 9, is believed to be the first person with DACA to be deported under Trump; ICE data shows a total of 408 people who had their DACA status revoked for alleged criminal activity have been deported since the program began in 2012. Another 676 former DACA recipients are now in “removal proceedings,” including the 90 currently in ICE detention centers.
In the wake of Trump’s election, some immigration groups told people not to apply or renew DACA for fear that ICE would use the information to track down and deport participants and their family members. Greisa Martinez, a DACA recipient and advocacy director for the immigrant rights group United We Dream, argued that even when DACA recipients break the law, they deserve to stay in the country because they were raised in the U.S. and are citizens in nearly every way except on paper.
“Being deported is not just relocating and changing your address,” said Martinez, whose father was deported in 2009. “For a lot of people, it means a death sentence. It means going back to war-torn countries. It also means a complete erasure from their families.”
Trump has given conflicting statements about his stance on Dreamers and DACA. During a campaign speech last August, he vowed to “break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration” and said the only option for Dreamers was to “return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else.” He also promised to “immediately terminate” their protections from deportation, though he has yet to follow through on that pledge.
More recently, Trump has referred to Dreamers as “these incredible kids” and expressed sympathy for their situation. On April 23, in the same interview in which he made the “rest easy” comment, Trump said, “We are not after the Dreamers. We are after the criminals.”
CORRECTION May 4, 2014, 11:04 p.m.: A prior version of this story misstated the name of the Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security. VICE News regrets the error.