Immigrants Fear Data Collected Under DACA Could Give Government Deportation Power

Mar 25, 2017
Originally published on March 25, 2017 5:11 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to check in now on the program that gave protected status to a half a million young immigrants who came here illegally as children. They have to reapply every two years for an Obama administration program that allows them to stay. They've been able to work and study without fear of being deported. Now, though, the program's future is in doubt. And some worry they put themselves and their families at risk by signing up in the first place. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Every day, the Department of Homeland Security processes several hundred applications under the program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Federal officials say the pace has not dropped off under the new administration. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump pledged to end the program. But since taking office, he has softened his rhetoric.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids.

GONZALES: Still, many DACA recipients, the so-called DREAMers, are worried. Just ask Maria. She's an 18-year-old freshman at San Francisco State University. Nearly one third of DACA recipients like Maria are in California. Her parents brought her across the Mexico border illegally when she was 4.

MARIA: I feel like the unknown is frightening because you really don't know what to prepare for.

GONZALES: Maria is sitting in the student center, taking a break between midterm exams. She asked that we not use her full name because she does not want to call attention to her case. She said the government already knows where she lives and where her parents live because she had to supply that information to apply for DACA.

MARIA: The government has easy access to our house, so it leaves me with, like, a sense of - it's frightening. I'm scared. Just thinking about it makes me, like, get the chills.

GONZALES: Trump has vowed to ramp up deportations of unauthorized immigrants. And under a little-noticed provision in one of his executive orders on immigration, the president stripped non-citizens of federal privacy protections. Immigrant advocates worry that data collected under DACA can now be used to find and deport people in the country illegally.

STEPHEN YALE-LOEHR: I think we have mixed messages.

GONZALES: Stephen Yale-Loehr is a Cornell University law professor.

YALE-LOEHR: President Trump personally may feel that DACA recipients should be low priority for deportation, but the new executive orders give individual immigration enforcement officials a lot more discretion than before.

GONZALES: Many immigrant advocates and attorneys are advising young people to wait to see what Trump does before applying for the first time. But those already in the program have more to lose by dropping out. Maria, for instance, is on a scholarship that's contingent on her DACA status. Scores of colleges and universities are offering DACA students legal referrals, psychological counseling and even help crafting emergency plans in case their families are deported. Norma Salcedo directs San Francisco State's Dreamer Resource Center, which opened just after Trump's election.

NORMA SALCEDO: If they're feeling anxious because they don't have an emergency plan, we will help them with that.

GONZALES: Opponents of the DACA program are just as frustrated with the Trump administration. Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a D.C.-based group that advocates for limits on all immigration. He contends DACA amounts to unconstitutional amnesty.

MARK KRIKORIAN: They're literally just kicking the can down the road and hoping the problem somehow resolves itself. That to me suggests there is no strategy. They don't have a plan on how to deal with DACA, at least not yet.

GONZALES: That's little comfort to Miguel, another San Francisco State student who asked that we not use his last name. He fears the day he'll get a call from home telling him that his parents in Southern California have been detained because they're here illegally.

MIGUEL: A few of my friends, one by one their parents are getting detained. And for, like, the rest of us, it feels like it's just a waiting game.

GONZALES: Miguel is a senior who will graduate this year with a degree in graphic design. If Trump terminates DACA, Miguel says he would probably set aside his career ambitions and work in a job like construction, where he can get paid under the table. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.