Dreamers are plotting how to fight back if Trump kills DACA

September 1, 2017, 10:28am

Angelica Villalobos knew her future as an American could be derailed in the blink of an eye the moment Donald Trump became president. Like nearly 800,000 other young undocumented immigrants, Villalobos is protected from deportation under DACA, an Obama-era program Trump campaigned on killing. And on Friday, Trump is expected to finally pull the trigger.

Villalobos, 32, came to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents when she was 11. She lived in fear of deportation until Obama created DACA in 2012. A longtime Oklahoma resident with no criminal record, she applied to the program and was granted a work permit and permission to stay in the country legally.

“I wanted to get out of the shadows and accomplish more than just working at a fast-food restaurant.”

For this married mother of four U.S.-citizen children, her status is set to expire in November, and a White House official told Fox News that Trump plans to phase out DACA by not allowing people to reapply. (Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday that the president hasn’t made a final decision, adding that “there are a lot of conversations around the timeline.”) Even if Trump doesn’t take action on Friday, it’s likely a matter of when — not if — he does away with the program.

Because DACA was established with an executive order and not an act of Congress, Trump has the power to wipe it out with the stroke of a pen. Villalobos was aware her DACA status could be temporary, but that didn’t stop her from applying.

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“I wanted to take advantage of the benefits,” she told VICE News. “I wanted to get out of the shadows and accomplish more than just working at a fast-food restaurant. There’s no shame in it, but I wasn’t going to live off making $7 an hour for the rest of my life. I went to college and wasn’t able to utilize what I’d worked for.”

It’s still unclear exactly how the Trump administration is going to handle people like Villalobos, who are known as Dreamers after a failed immigration reform package called the DREAM Act. In February, Trump promised to “deal with DACA with heart,” but the program is opposed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and 10 attorneys general from Texas and other Republican-led states have threatened to sue the Trump administration if the president doesn’t take action before Sept. 5.

Villalobos, who now works as an office manager in the Oklahoma City area and volunteers as a Spanish translator at her local elementary school, is worried that she won’t be able to renew her driver’s license, which could lead to her deportation if she gets stopped by police.

“That could get me arrested and they could put me in an immigration detention facility,” she said. “I have to drive 20 minutes to take my kids to school. I drive to work, I drive to volunteer. It means I’ll have to slow down, change my daily routine, go back to the shadows, and limit things I get involved with, and be safe for my family.”

“I’m operating under the assumption that the worst is going to happen, that they’re going to share this info with DHS.”

Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to live in the U.S., nearly 2 million are young people who could qualify for DACA. Polling has shown that nearly 70 percent of voters support the program, and a recent study indicated that ending it could cost the economy $460 billion in lost GDP.

Trump allowed DACA enrollment to continue during his first months in office, but fewer people have been applying. Dreamers already covered by DACA have expressed concern that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, the agency that administers the program, could use their personal information track down and deport them.

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“It’s really difficult to know what they’re going to do,” said Justino Mora, a 27-year-old DACA beneficiary and the cofounder of the advocacy group Undocumedia. “I’m operating under the assumption that the worst is going to happen, that they’re going to share this info with DHS.”

Mora and other Dreamers are plotting how to fight back. The ideal solution would be Congress passing comprehensive immigration reform or a law that permanently establishes a DACA-like program, but that could take months and seems highly unlikely under the current GOP leadership. More immediately, Mora said, advocates can pressure state and local officials to maintain sanctuary city policies and take other measures to prevent immigration agents from detaining Dreamers and their families.

“It doesn’t just affect us,” Mora said. “It affects our parents, our uncles, our siblings, our communities. We’re not going to give up… We’re all human beings, we contribute significantly not only to the economy but to the social fabric of the United States.”

“Trump is peeling away like an onion every last shred of protection they might feel.”

Dreamers could also try to sue. Sessions and other Republicans maintain that DACA is illegal, but the issue hasn’t been resolved in the courts. And if DHS does decide to use information from DACA to target undocumented people, they could potentially file a lawsuit, though it’s unclear whether they would prevail against the government.

“This is a very nebulous area,” said Anna Law, a constitutional rights expert at Brooklyn College. “I don’t think anyone is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. There could be arguments marshaled and laws cited on both sides. It’s really in the eye of the beholder, and the ideology of the judge is probably the best predictor on how they’ll rule. There’s no clear law that says it’s absolutely legal or absolutely not legal.”

Law noted, however, than any legal battle would take months to get resolved. Much like Trump’s failed travel ban has wreaked havoc even though federal judges have repeatedly intervened, a court fight would leave DACA stuck in limbo, effectively accomplishing his goal.

“Immigrant communities know now that everyone is a target,” Law said. “Trump is peeling away like an onion every last shred of protection they might feel.”