As Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the White House’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on the morning of Sept. 5, the attorneys at the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR) gathered around to talk about what to do next.
Many of their clients made up some of the 800,000 Dreamers who had arrived in the United States as children and found legal means to stay in the country through the Obama-era executive action also known as DACA.
After the program was introduced in 2012, NMCIR worked to get over 400 people DACA status, and their clients had returned every two years to renew it. “They were a part of our family,” says Angela Fernandez, the executive director of NMCIR.
By noon, NMCIR had called each and every one of them to tell them the news and talk them through the next steps. The recipients were told to check the expiration date on their status — if it expired on, or before, March 8 of next year, they had to come into the office urgently to fill out their paperwork by Oct. 4, the expiration for renewal set by the Department of Justice.
“The most insidious part of it was that a lot of people are not aware of what can happen to them,” Fernandez said. “800,000 people go out of status from one day to the next. It’s the cruelty of it; the complete disregard for the fact that these people are human.”
“A lot of people are not aware of what can happen to them.”
The announcement to end DACA has caused a huge stir across the United States, with thousands of affected families and friends rallying support for the Dreamers. Many community and legal organizations like NMCIR, major businesses, religious leaders, Democrats, and even some Republicans are now appealing to Congress, which has been tasked by the Trump administration to legalize DACA or find alternatives within a six-month grace period.
Fernandez told The Indypendent that getting a protection bill for Dreamers approved in Congress would involve a range of tactics — many of which are already being implemented on the local level. For example, on the day that Sessions announced the repeal, 34 DACA recipients got arrested in front of Trump Tower, there was a hunger strike in Washington, D.C. and many marched out of schools, jobs and homes to protest on the streets.
“All of this elevates the issue and shows that people are willing to make a sacrifice for it with their bodies,” said Fernandez.
But on a strategic level, Fernandez said it was crucial to do an analysis of how many votes were in support of the bill from both the Republicans and the Democrats. “Then, we can inundate the office of the reps who are in-between, or do sit-ins in their offices, or find out when their district visits and town hall meetings are held to ask them, ‘Are you going to support the bill?’,” Fernandez said. “If they don’t support it, we need to call them out on it.”
While it was encouraging to see that Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi were working towards a deal with President Trump to extend protections for those under DACA, Fernandez believes that only a combination of advocacy efforts and public awareness will force the hand of Congress.
“My main concern is publicly we’re going to see a lot of political jujitsu,” she said. “Trump is the master of smoke in mirrors. It’s important to get enough votes from those in-between by tipping them over the line.”
Fernandez also called on the wider community to show support. If an ally is willing to donate money, for example, they should write a check to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and mail it to their local community organization representing Dreamers.
“How many young people and DACA recipients would have a spare $500 to petition USCIS to extend their status?” she said.
Other ways of showing support included rallying relatives who live in districts where members of Congress need pressure put on them to vote in favor of DACA. Fernandez suggested getting together as a community to do constituency calling and raising awareness about the issue.
And finally, she said, “just be kind and loving to your undocumented neighbors.”
Photo: Demonstrators took to the streets in New York City and around the country this month to decry President Trump’s decision to end DACA. Credit: Harrie van Veen.