Uncertainty over DACA leaves future of thousands of “dreamer” NRI kids in doubt

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – an Obama-era initiative providing relief from deportation to more than 800,000 undocumented young people, now under consideration by President Donald Trump, has left the future of nearly 7,000 children of Indian origin in the United states in uncertainty.

Nearly 800,000 people who got a reprieve under an executive order by President Obama and on way to be legal residents, could face deportation if President Donald Trump pulls the plug on a program that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. His decision could come as early as this week. It could also strip them of their work permits and rescind in-state tuition for undocumented college students. The program also allowed its recipients to obtain social security numbers.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services latest statistics – collected until March 31 – an estimated 7,028 undocumented Indian American students are DACA recipients, many who arrived as young children with their parents and have never been able to return to the land of their birth. India ranks 11 amongst the top countries of origin for DACA students; 7,881 have applied for the program. More than 17,000 are eligible, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute. Pakistan ranks 22nd in countries of origin for DACA recipients: USCIS reports that 3,476 applications have been accepted to date.

The DACA program officially started on June 15, 2012, when the Obama administration announced that certain illegal immigrants who came to the US as children and met some guidelines – including being in school, or high school graduates, had served or were serving the military, had no criminal record, had a record of paying taxes and were not welfare recipients – may request consideration for a work permit, to be renewed every two years.

These individuals had to be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and had to show they had come to the US before reaching 16th birthday. It allowed these immigrants to study and work without fear of being deported.

DACA’s future has been murky ever since Trump took office. As a candidate, he vowed to slash it, but he hinted at a softer stance once he made it to the White House, pledging to handle the situation “with heart.” Now the President is said to be weighing his options on DACA as a potential court fight looms.

Last December, Trump told Time magazine in an interview that he would “work something out” for DACA beneficiaries. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

In February, Trump said the DACA executive order was one of the most difficult issues he has had to grapple with. “You have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly,” hedging his remarks by noting that some were drug dealers and gang members.

But the president is under deadline to repeal Obama’s executive order: a June 29 letter sent by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatens to sue the administration if DACA is not repealed by Sept. 5. The attorney generals of eight other states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia – and Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho were co-signatories to the letter.

The national coalition has petitioned Trump to rethink his plans to scrap the program. Doing so would imperil the economy and jeopardize the futures of nearly 800,000 young people — 97 percent of whom are in school or in the workforce, they wrote.

“Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy,” the executives wrote. “With them, we grow and create jobs. They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage.”

They have already submitted to extensive background checks. They pay income taxes. Without them, the economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions, the letter said. A study issued in January by the CATO Institute – a libertarian think tank – estimated that deporting all 800,000 DACA recipients – also known as DREAMERs – would cost the federal government $60 billion, and reduce economic growth by $280 billion over the next 10 years.

The letter, organized by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us and signed by leaders of nearly 400 other companies, also urged Congress to pass legislation that would provide a permanent fix for the young undocumented immigrants.

Among the signatories are business magnate Warren Buffett, fashion designer Diane von Furstenburg, Tim Cook of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, and Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard. Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella wrote in a LinkedIn post that “smart immigration can help our economic growth and global competitiveness” in addition to creating more jobs for Americans.

“As I shared at the White House in June, I am a product of two uniquely American attributes: the ingenuity of American technology reaching me where I was growing up, fueling my dreams, and the enlightened immigration policy that allowed me to pursue my dreams,” he wrote. “As a CEO, I see each day the direct contributions that talented employees from around the world bring to our company, our customers and to the broader economy. We care deeply about the DREAMers who work at Microsoft and fully support them.”

Nadella added: “This is the America that I know and of which I am a proud citizen. This is the America that I love and that my family and I call home. And this is the America that I will always advocate for.”

NBC reported that many advocacy groups have pressed Trump to ignore the “arbitrary” deadline set by 10 attorneys general around the US to end DACA. Immigrant rights groups are on the offensive, holding rallies and pressuring Congress to stand up for the program and pass a more permanent solution. Meanwhile, Dreamers across the United States are bracing themselves for the possibility of losing driver’s licenses, jobs or funding for their educations — and eventually facing deportation to countries many of them barely remember.

Two days before Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven countries and halting refugee resettlement, which is currently suspended by the courts, the Trump administration issued another order that has caused widespread alarm among undocumented immigrants. The January 25 order greatly expands the definition of who is considered a criminal and therefore a target for deportation. It prioritizes removal of undocumented immigrants who have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense,” regardless of whether they’ve been charged or convicted of a crime.

Even if Trump does not end the DACA program, hundreds of DACA beneficiaries could be subject to deportation under the expanded definition, said attorney Leon Fresco, who headed the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration under President Obama. At particular risk are DACA recipients with outstanding orders of removal from the country. Any run-in with the law they might have had, however minor, could endanger their reprieve from deportation under DACA. “There is a 100 percent guarantee that some will have their DACA status revoked and they’ll be deported,” Fresco said. “It could happen any moment.”

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