What the federal judge’s order on DACA means for Dreamers

This story has been updated to include the federal government’s response to the judge’s ruling.

New Jersey “Dreamers” and their supporters say a judge’s order to resume the federal program that protects nearly 800,000 unauthorized immigrants from deportation may only amount to a symbolic victory in the legal wrangling over their future.

“The chances of (the ruling) being overturned are very strong,” Peter Boogaard, a former Homeland Security official under President Barack Obama, told USA Today.

For now, the government will resume Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which offers protection and work permits for immigrants who were brought to this country as children. A guidance released this weekend by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services states the office will accept renewal applications.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup last week ordered the Trump administration to resume DACA while a lawsuit challenging the program’s end plays out in court.

Alsup’s order came amid a flurry of negotiations in Washington to reach a legislative fix for DACA, which President Donald Trump ordered to end March 5 unless Congress and the White House can agree on a variety of immigration-related measures, including funding for more border security, including the building of a wall.

Conflicting reports Thursday had the White House and a bipartisan group of senators either in agreement or very near an accord.

“We’ve got this bipartisan group. We are at a deal. … It’s the only game in town,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, told reporters,  according to The Hill.

“There has not been a deal reached yet, however, we still think we can get there,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee commented later.

New Jersey is home to an estimated 22,000 recipients of DACA, an executive action created by former President Barack Obama for unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. He extended the protections after Congress failed to reach agree on a package of immigration reform fixes.

DACA Demonstrators carried banners and signs outside of Rep Tom MacArthur's office in Toms River in hopes of gaining his support for the Dream Act of 2017 that would provide a path to citizenship for dreamers.

Several plaintiffs, including the University of California system and several California cities, are challenging the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 announcement that it will phase out DACA unless Congress properly authorized the protections.

It is unclear how many DACA recipients in New Jersey have protections that may expire soon and would benefit from the judge’s decision.

It could help certain Dreamers renew

Alsup’s order requires that the federal government continue to accept DACA renewal applications. It could benefit recipients such as Daniel Cabrera, a Red Bank resident, whose renewal application was denied in late August over a missed signature.

Andres Mejer, an immigration attorney who consulted Cabrera during a DACA renewal cilnic, said officials typically deny renewal applications over such technicalities. However, the government used to send warning notices to give the applicant a chance to fix the issue before rejecting the application altogether.

Cabrera did not receive such a warning. He re-applied to renew in late August, but because his status was technically expired at the time of the Sept. 5 announcement, he was told he could not renew  — a change Mejer said was a violation of due process rights.

Recipients like Cabrera whose protections expired before Sept. 5 would have to file new DACA applications rather than a renewal because of certain deadline requirements, according to the USCIS guidance. The office is not accepting new applications from immigrants who have never had DACA.

“There’s no safe bet, to be honest, but planning from a worst-case scenario, they have a narrow window to renew,” Mejer told a Press reporter. “Do it. We know what the form is. We know what the fee is. Just do it, as quickly as you possibly can.”

Some NJ Dreamers play waiting game

Other legal experts agreed that Alsup’s order would likely be reversed. Boogaard, former deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, said it was only a matter of time before the judge’s order is set aside.

Boogaard now works for FWD.us, an advocacy group created by technology companies that support DACA.

Colonial resident and DACA recipient Piash Ahmed was one of the protesters who sat in at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center Emancipation Hall before being arrested in Washington, D.C. in December. They are pushing Congress to support a DACA fix.

DACA recipients whose protections expire weeks or months after the Trump administration’s March 5 deadline have to play a waiting game.

“Mine expires in August. I’m looking at it (the decision) very closely, but it looks like a temporary victory,” said Piash Ahmed, a DACA recipient from Bangladesh who lives in Colonia.

“I always thought it was unusual and cruel what Trump  made us go through,” he added, “the stress and headache and fear he created in our communities is tremendous.”

Does it affect Dreamers’ status in the long-term? Not really.

If there’s one thing DACA supporters and critics agree on, it’s that the program was just a temporary fix.

DACA supporters say there are thousands of recipients who want to gain legal status in the country they were raised in and consider home, but no permanent law exists to allow them to do so.

Democrats continue to negotiate with Republicans and White House officials for a legislative replacement that would offer DACA recipients legal status, but they clash over whether such a fix would include provisions for a border wall and Trump’s other immigration proposals.

That’s a compromise DACA recipients say they don’t want their allies in Congress to make.

Ahmed, the Colonia resident, said the DACA rescission “was only to make us a bargaining chip (for Trump) to get his border wall. It was solely to get the Democrats on board.”

Ahmed and other recipients have participated in sit-ins in Capitol Hill to protest Congress’ inaction. A group of seven DACA recipients, including a former St. Peter’s University student, have repeatedly been arrested after “peaceful demonstrations” inside Capitol Hill. Demonstrations inside Capitol Hill are illegal.

Li Adorno was one of the people released from prison Dec. 19, 2017 following a DACA protest in Washington, D.C.

Li Adorno, who has since been released from jail, said the court’s decision recognizes that young unauthorized immigrants should not live in limbo, but that it doesn’t let Congress off the hook.

“If Congress reflected at least an ounce of courage that the Dream 7 has shown, they would have passed the clean Dream Act by now,” Adorno said in a statement. “Some say we can wait to pass legislation, but we need permanent protection now. There is no time to waste.”

Written by Steph Solis and published on January 11, 2018 at Asbury Park Press.

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