SALT LAKE CITY — In an announcement that sent ripples of fear through Utah’s immigrant community, President Donald Trump on Sept. 5 rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). No new applications to the program will be accepted and no renewals for those already in the program will be allowed after Oct. 5.
The program will not be rescinded for six months, giving Congress time to enact legislation protecting those in the DACA program who otherwise could be deported.
DACA, enacted in 2012, enabled people who had been brought to the United States before their 16th birthday to be exempt from deportation for two years and apply for a work permit. To qualify, they also had to either be enrolled in or have completed high school or be an honorably discharged U.S. military veteran. In addition, they could never have been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, nor pose a threat to national security or public safety.
These young people “are vulnerable right here in the United States,” said Alyssa Williams, an immigration attorney with Catholic Community Services of Utah. “This has always been a special group of people that has touched the hearts of all immigration service providers, and immigration attorneys generally, because they have grown up here in the United States.”
In the five years since DACA was enacted, the 800,000 who applied through the program “did what they said they were going to do. They went to college, they finished college, they started amazing careers,” Williams said.
For example, a couple of DACA recipients helped by CCS completed their nursing degrees and now work in the medical field, she said. Others finished high school and went into the building trades, and a number of stay-at-home moms obtained their driver’s license, which gave them a “sense of security that they can be driving around their communities with their children and they have no fear of getting picked up by immigration and being separated from their family,” Williams said.
That security is now in doubt. The announced end of DACA means all of those who are in the program could be deported – none of them are eligible for a green card or citizenship; even those who are married to U.S. citizens cannot easily apply for a green card.
“There is no transition from DACA to green card,” Williams said. “It’s frozen everybody in this temporary status.”
CCS and Holy Cross Ministries are both offering help to those who are eligible to apply for renewals before the Oct. 5 deadline.
“Recognizing the urgency of this timeline for those who qualify, and because we believe in building and celebrating just, compassionate, sustainable and inclusive communities and aim to assist individuals and families towards full participation in the community, Holy Cross Ministries will be offering free consultations and renewal appointments for any individual eligible to renew their DACA permit,” said Maria Farrington, CEO of Holy Cross Ministries, in a Sept. 6 press release.
About 20 people a day are applying for DACA renewals at Holy Cross Ministries, Farrington said in an interview.
“It’s a crisis, all right,” she said. “One only has to walk down the hall and look at the people in our office (who are seeking help) and they are tragically scared.”
Those who are seeking DACA renewals are young adults who “are taking the rightful place in American employment circles and are very, very educated,” Farrington said. “The ideals and philosophy behind DACA are completely in alignment with the goals and tenets that have made this country a great country. These young people are our neighbors, they’re our supervisors, they’re our volunteers, they’re our mothers and fathers. There is a price to pay if we lose them.”
Opposition to revoking DACA has come from as diverse sources as Bishop Oscar A. Solis, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and Pope Francis.
“The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City is saddened by the administration’s decision to abandon immigrant youth in our nation. We believe in the rule of law, but we also have a moral obligation to protect the life and dignity of every human being, including youth brought to the United States in their parent’s hope of finding opportunity and safety for their children. The young people who qualified for the limited protections of DACA were innocent children with no intent to violate our laws. They are part of the fabric of our society and nation,” said Bishop Solis in a Sept. 5 statement.
Bishop Solis also attended a Sept. 5 Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament service at St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center to pray for the intention of DACA recipients and their families.
Likewise, Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, issued a Sept. 5 statement calling for a lasting and comprehensive federal immigration policy, and adding, “The future of more than 9,000 young people in Utah and hundreds of thousands more across the country hang in the balance. The last five years has proven that DACA works. The large majority of DACA recipients are hard-working, contributing members of our society and an important part of our economy.”
On the flight from Colombia to Rome, Pope Francis responded to a reporter’s question by saying that he had heard of Trump’s decision but had not had time to study the details of the issue, but that “uprooting young people from their families is not something that will bear fruit,” according to Catholic News Service.
“I hope he rethinks it a bit,” the pope said, “because I’ve heard the president of the United States speak; he presents himself as a man who is pro-life, a good pro-lifer. If he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that the family is the cradle of life and its unity must be defended,” the pope said, according to the CNS report.
Free DACA Appointments
Both Holy Cross Ministries and Catholic Community Services are offering free legal appointments to help those who are eligible renew their status.
Contact Holy Cross Ministries at 801-261-3440 for an immediate appointment.
Contact CCS at 801-977-9119 or firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment; open walk-ins are on Wednesdays.
A march in support of DACA will take place Saturday, Sept. 16, noon to 3 p.m. from the Wallace Bennett Federal Building, 125 S. State St., Salt Lake City, to the Utah State Capitol. Hosted by March for Refugees.