Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Why A Court Victory for DACA Dreamers Won't Stop Trump's Zero Tolerance Policy

by Nomad

Although federal judges have ordered the administration to re-instate DACA in recent decisions, there is still plenty of dread and distrust amongst the Dreamers for this administration. 
And for good reason.

You might not have noticed what with all the usual insanity going on in the Trump administration but, on Friday, a federal judge delivered another serious blow to one of the president's most controversial decrees. This marks- perhaps- the death blow to Trump's fondest anti-immigration dreams.

Upholding a previous court order, Judge John D. Bates of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ordered that the administration re-instate Obama-era administrative relief program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Until its expiration, DACA shielded around 700,000 young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States when they were children.

Judge Bates- a Republican appointee- called the shutdown of the program “arbitrary and capricious” and said that the administration's justification “fails to elaborate meaningfully on the agency’s primary rationale for its decision.” That's a judicial way of saying the administration's decision not to renew DACA was "hogwash."
Bates called the administration's rationale "a hodgepodge of illogical or post hoc policy assertions.”
This represents the third federal court judgment against the Trump administration on DACA. In February, the Supreme Court had declined to hear the Trump administration's appeal of a federal judge's ruling that requires the government to keep the DACA going.
Thanks to a lower court ruling, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must continue to accept renewal applications from the 700,000 currently enrolled in the program. President Trump had intended to shut the program down by March.

In reaction to the court's order, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the ruling "improper" and declared it as one of a “number of decisions in which courts have improperly used judicial power to steer, enjoin, modify, and direct executive policy.”
That's what Trump would call the sound of a "sore loser."

DACA for Dreamers 

The planned shutdown of DACA would have been a catastrophe for a lot of people. The usual figure mentioned in most of the media reports - 700,000 -represents the people who have applied and have been accepted into the DACA program. There is also significant number of young people who are at risk of deportation who did not apply for DACA or who applied but were not accepted.

To be protected by DACA, so-called Dreamers have to meet certain criteria. For example, applicants had to be at least 15 years old, prove that they'd arrived in the country before the age of 16. Moreover, they have to have been living in the country since at least June 15, 2007, and be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012.
The total number of Dreamers- DACA protected or not- might exceed 3.6 million. There's really no way of knowing.

With this latest court ruling, DACA might just survive the pummeling it has received under Trump. That might sound like a happy ending but, at this point, the real question is: why would anybody trust DACA to protect them?

Fear and Loathing Among the Dreamers

Each day, about 120 Dreamers lose their temporary protection from deportation. DACA protection is a temporary thing, lasting only two years.

So what exactly happens when an individual's DACA benefits expire over the next two year? Do they become illegal and subject to deportation?
Here's what the DHS says: 
Current law does not grant any legal status for the class of individuals who are current recipients of DACA. Recipients of DACA are currently unlawfully present in the U.S. with their removal deferred. When their period of deferred action expires or is terminated, their removal will no longer be deferred and they will no longer be eligible for lawful employment.
According to the government record, a total of 21,790 DACA recipients failed to reapply. With the status of DACA in question and with a president seemingly determined to abolish the program, they had good reasons. 

As one DACA recipient pointed out, the information demanded by the DACA application form (fingerprints, addresses, photo ID, etc.) could be used to track and trace the undocumented immigrant. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) assured - not very convincingly- that this information is not shared with ICE or any other law enforcement agency. 

Still, given the complicated language of that assurance and numerous exceptions, there's understandable fear that Obama's shield would become Trump's weapon.  

ICE and the Threat to Public Safety

But are those legitimate fears? The DHS officially says its focus is on the removal of people who pose "a threat to national security or risks to public safety."
So long as you keep your nose clean, don't get caught up in drug wars or rob a bank or plot terrorist attacks, you should be okay. Right? 
DHS will exercise prosecutorial discretion as appropriate to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children.
However, it's not hard to find examples where people have been deported on misdemeanor offenses.  

Check out this 2017 case. In Portland, 25 -year-old Dreamer Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez assumed he was protected by DACA.
By most measures, he was an ideal citizen. He worked for a community organization and coordinates a food pantry for low-income families. He is also a soccer coach at a nearby elementary school. In other words, Francisco did more for his community than any members of Trump's Cabinet. 

However, he was threatened with deportation after a misdemeanor DUI charge. Dominguez had entered a DUI diversion program and completed nearly all of the requirements, including going to court hearings and attending required meetings. But that didn't stop ICE agents from arresting Dominguez at his family home without a warrant.
Immigration lawyer Stephen Manning described the scene for local reporters.
“His family said it was terrifying, and they didn’t know what to do, ICE agents were banging on the door. They didn’t have a warrant and were told they couldn’t come in, but they wouldn’t stop banging."
Eventually, the family relented, allowing the ICE agents to enter and Dominguez was taken away. After loud public protests and offers of legal representative by ACLU lawyers, he was reunited with his family the following day. An ICE spokesperson said that Dominguez was released on bond, "pending the outcome of removal proceedings before an immigration judge."

In another example, 19-year-old Manuel Antonio Cano-Pacheco was set to graduate high school in Des Moines when he was pulled over for speeding last fall and a DUI. 
He too was a DACA dreamer but a federal immigration judge terminated his DACA status because of misdemeanor convictions.
Cano-Pacheco was then deported in late April, the Des Moines Register reported.
What happened next is unclear but within three weeks in an unfamiliar country, Cano-Pacheco was dead. His throat was slit while he was out getting food in Zacatecas, Mexico.  

So, contrary to the DHS statement, ICE has taken the position that even a misdemeanor DUI is enough to end DACA status. "Public safety" is a flexible term and the ICE agents seem to be willing to define as they wish, even to include misdemeanor convictions.
It's not surprising that ICE agents would feel so empowered, given the anti-immigrant rhetoric from the president. It began in the campaign and Trump no sign of toning it down any time soon.
As the Atlantic Monthly recently wrote:
Through their union, employees of ice endorsed Trump’s candidacy in September 2016, the first time the organization had ever lent its support to a presidential contender. When Trump prevailed in the election, the soon-to-be-named head of ice triumphantly declared that it would finally have the backing of a president who would let the agency do its job.
Trump officials have compared ICE's aggressive attitude to taking “the shackles off,” They say that morale at ICE is way up because its officers have regained the authority to detain anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.
And when they say "anybody," they mean just that.

Baby and Bathwater

For quite some time now, efforts have been made by the right-wing media to paint Dreamers as welfare parasites, freeloading on the American system and dangerous criminals, "bad hombres."

Yet, according to government and nonprofit studies, the overwhelming majority are in the labor force (with tax-paying jobs) or in school, preparing to contribute to society. As you'd expect, most work in the kind of migrant labor jobs: food preparation, construction, building maintenance.  

Some, however, are highly skilled professionals, climbing the corporate ladder. A survey by the liberal research group Center for American Progress in August 2017 found that at least 72 percent of the top 25 companies in the Fortune 500 employ Dreamers. Even with serious questions about the fate of the status of Dreamers,

Here's a short documentary about Dreamer doctors.

The vast majority of Dreamers were born in Mexico and came to the US before the age of ten. And when they lose their DACA protected status, that's where they have wound up.

Under the Trump administration treats many all illegal immigrants as unwelcome. In the eyes of this administration, there are no exceptions. The president has derided immigrants from “s--- hole countries.” In rabble-rousing speeches, Trump repeatedly warned citizens that immigrants are the source of crime, a threat to national security and to American jobs.

Like abandoning the Paris Agreement, tearing the Iranian nuclear deal and starting the unnecessary trade war, failing to renew DACA is just another poorly-thought-out Trump decision.

Speaking purely from an economic viewpoint, experts say it makes no sense to throw away the investment America has already made in these young people. In most cases, Americans have already paid for their education and skills training. Regardless of their questionable legal status, these people represent a valuable resource that should be prized.
By deporting Dreamers in the same class as drug dealers and gang members, Trump has shown an inability to discern good from bad.
But then we all knew that already.

Dropped Off on Mars

That brings us to a final question: what happens to these Dreamers who have already been deported to Mexico? How are these suddenly uprooted young people expected to live in what is for them a foreign country?

One such deportee describes it this way:
"Imagine you're picked up from a street of Dallas and they drop you off on Mars and you have to figure everything out. That's what happened to me."
The Mexican government, in stark contrast to the treatment under the current US administration, offers help to the deported and had promised support for returning Dreamers.

The National Institute of Migration offers basic services like food, shelter, and documentation, while in Mexico City, the government provides unemployment allowance and training programs to help people find work. Says Amalia Dolores GarcĂ­a Medina, Secretary of Labor and Employment Promotion in Mexico City:
“Mexico City has an age-old tradition of hospitality. Our constitution guarantees the human rights of migrants.”
But the help is on a survival level. A sudden influx of deportees- many who are not even Mexican, is very likely to swamp the social relief programs, at least outside the capital. The long tradition of hospitality is being tested. As our source points out:
For generations, Mexicans have displayed tolerance for political and economic refugees, including Jews, Spaniards, Cubans, Chileans and Argentines. These days, Mexico’s generosity is being sorely tested, not just by an influx of Central Americans, but by their own sons and daughters. The rise in the number of deportees is causing some trepidation.
It's not surprising that local Mexicans would see these deportees as foreigners. Not everybody is welcoming and call the deportees "they're nothing but scum, trash with their tattoos." 
That's definitely a minority view but it does show how easily bad policy can work its way down to hatred on a person to person level.

American Enclave in Mexico City

Former Dreamer himself, Israel Concha is the founder of a non-profit called New Beginnings, or Nuevos Comienzos, which he founded in 2015. Its mission is to support young undocumented Mexicans who have been deported from the US
He recalls his thoughts as he suddenly found himself booted from his adopted home and back to the land of his fathers.

“That’s when I thought about the pledge of allegiance I’d taken every morning in elementary school. I thought, where’s the liberty? Where’s the justice for all?”
Concha told an interviewer:
“The United States is deporting the best back to Mexico, people hungry and determined for a second chance..All these people represent brilliant minds, the most energetic, ambitious ones coming back to Mexico.”
Many deportees end up in the Colonia Tabacalera neighborhood of Mexico City to a place known locally as "Little LA." A makeshift community where Mexican and American cultures meet as equals.

A nearby call center employs Dreamers because of their English language skills. There are a large number of other businesses that have been created, like Americanized barber shops and fast food places. 
This enclave of deportees, more American than Mexican, rejected by what they once considered their home country, sits at the heart of Mexico City near the historic arch commemorating the Mexican revolution.
As one deportee said:
“It feels like a piece of the United States. We feel more comfortable because we are talking English, talking about life, and trying to support each other.”
Right now and for the foreseeable future, that's about all the support they can expect.