Since President Donald Trump announced earlier this month his intention to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, advocacy groups in the state have rushed to defend those who might be harmed by the loss of the program. DACA beneficiaries are also bracing for the possibility of giving up a future in the country they consider home.
DACA, an Obama-era policy, protects from hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States when they were 16 years old or younger deportation and allows them to acquire work authorizations. Meriden resident Jason Ramos, who counts many DACA recipients among his friends, said losing DACA would upend his friends’ lives.
“The main thing that happens when you lose DACA is it takes away your ability to have a life,” Ramos said. “It just means losing that ability to fend for oneself … one starts to feel helpless.”
Since Trump’s announcement on Sept. 5, Ramos said many of his friends who are DACA recipients have been stuck in a “state of being both panicked and immobilized.” He explained that most are in school or have jobs, and that some even have their own children in the United States, making the sudden uncertainty of their future in the country all the more devastating. A 2017 national DACA survey found that 97 percent of DACA recipients were either working or attending school.
Elm City Advocacy groups, like Unidad Latina en Acción, have been working with city government and New Haven organizations to create plans to defend residents. John Lugo, a New Haven resident and active ULA member, said his organization met with Yale Law School’s Workers’ and Immigrants’ Rights Advocacy Clinic on Wednesday evening.
ULA is currently focused on preparing individuals in New Haven for worst-case scenarios, as well as specifying guardians for any young children in the event of last-minute deportations. According to Lugo, ULA is unwilling to assume that some governing body will replace or extend DACA before time runs out for its recipients.
Ramos added that many of his friends are also thinking about steps they can take in the short-term to avoid deportation, such as getting their work authorization renewed.
Lugo also underscored the significance of not allowing DACA renewal to become a “bargaining chip” in conversations about immigration reform. There are currently 11 million undocumented people in the United States and only about 800,000 of them are protected by DACA. As such, Lugo said ULA will not support DACA legislation detrimental to the status of undocumented immigrants in general, even if it means that those currently under DACA would continue to be protected.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Mayor Toni Harp has been working with ULA and other city organizations to defend not only New Haven’s DACA recipients, but also all of the city’s other undocumented residents. Shortly after Trump announced his intentions to end the program, Harp delivered a speech at City Hall harshly condemning him.
“I would remind the president that his family first got started in this country as immigrants,” Harp said in her speech. “I would remind the president that the colonists — by definition — arrived on this continent from elsewhere to make better lives for themselves … and that the United States has been a nation of immigrants ever since.”
Harp has remained firm throughout her time in office on keeping New Haven a sanctuary city, with policing and regulatory policies that defend undocumented people from deportation. Trump has threatened to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities, but the mayor has not shifted her position in response.
Harp, who is currently running for a third mayoral term, received the endorsement of Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., earlier this month in part because of the work Harp has done in advocating for undocumented immigrants.
New Haven is one of hundreds of sanctuary cities nationwide.
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