DACA recipients in limbo as Congress fails to act
What will happen to ‘Dreamers’ now that the first deadline has passed?
By CHARLENE SCOTT MYERS
Southwest Kansas Catholic
The young adults of the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have been left hanging in suspension like a line full of washed clothes on a windy Kansas day.
The March 5 deadline for a Congressional decision regarding the future of the DACA youth and young adults has come and gone, and Archbishop Jose. H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is quite upset about it.
In the past, the archbishop has been critical of efforts to tie immigration reform with border security, saying last month that it is “cruel” to use DACA recipients as “bargaining chips.”
“This is no way for a great nation to make policy on such a crucial area as immigration,” he said.
U.S. bishops encouraged a National Call-in Day for Dreamers (DACA youth) last month, encouraging the faithful to contact lawmakers and ask them to protect DACA recipients.
Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Migration Committee, said that the faithful who participated in the call-in day “recognize that protecting these young people from deportation is an issue of human life and dignity, and that a legislative solution is necessary to make that protection durable.”
It is anyone’s guess what will happen come fall. In the mean-time, “My brother bishops and I continue to call upon Congress to work towards a bipartisan and humane solution as soon as possible,” Bishop Vásquez said.
Michael Feltman, an immigration attorney in Cimarron, spoke at a gathering March 5 at the Dodge City Library about DACA and some of the newer issues facing immigrants.
“The biggest news about DACA is that it still is in place,” he said.
The March 5 deadline was blocked by two federal judges, which effectively stalled any resolution on the DACA issue until the fall. According to the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), individuals can continue to renew their grant of deferred action under DACA (as long as they continue to meet certain criteria, including undergoing a stringent background check), but no new DACA applications are being accepted, which means that more people are having to live in the shadows.
He urged immigrants to be as “knowledgeable as you can about your circumstances ... as far as what is able to be done. Talk to someone who is experienced. At least get some kind of game plan in place.”
Feltman said that in recent weeks, he has seen that the courts have been stricter in certain circumstances.
“Most importantly, I would say, is that folks who have DUIs who may not have legal status are getting picked up pretty consistently,” Feltman said. “If there’s a domestic issue, they are usually getting picked up. If folks have an old deportation issue, they’re getting picked up as well.”
He said it is a deportable offense —even for those who have obtained their green card (permanent residency card) — if someone does not officially change their address within 10 days of moving to another location.
An audience member noted that he had heard of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents coming to a home to search for someone, only to find that the person had moved. The agents then questioned the status of the family living at the “mistaken” address.
Feltman replied, “What some of the immigration advocates say is, ‘If you don’t know who’s at the door, don’t answer it.’ It’s a double-edged sword, I know. It’s tough.”
One of the ways that a person may fight deportation is called “cancellation of removal”. The individual in question must have been here 10 years, have a lawful spouse, parent or child in the United States, show they have good moral character, and that their leaving would present a hardship on those lawful family members.
Feltman also stressed that “The United States cannot deport U.S. citizen children or lawfully residing lawful permanent residents.”
As an immigration attorney, there’s only so much Feltman can do. Almost weekly he hears from employers who want to help an individual or individuals obtain legal status.
“[I don’t go] a week where an employer isn’t wondering, ‘Is there anything I can do for this worker — and 10 right here that I want to hire — and help them get papers? What do we do?’
“ …If they are here without permission, there is essentially nothing we can do, except say, ‘Go back to the consulate … and we’ll try to help you to get your green card,” Feltman said.
If the individual has been in the United States for more than one year after the age of 18 without the proper documentation, they face the possibility of a 10-year penalty; they cannot return to the United States for a decade.
As the nation awaits further action on DACA, Bishop John Brungardt is urging people to contact their local representatives (see below).
There are 800,000 DACA youth and young adults now in the United States, and potentially that number could rise to a million, Feltman said. DACA includes not just youth, but “blue collar workers, teachers, nurses, and paras.”
Other proposals being considered include the HOPE Act, the Succeed Act, and the Recognizing America’s Children Act, all of which help to protect young immigrants.
Feltman serves as the Kansas liaison for the USCIS office: “We have officers who do a great job. If they know somebody is in a difficult situation, they will listen.”
“We care about Western Kansas and the people who live here,” he concluded.