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LAREDO MORNING TIMES: Students in Laredo, South Texas at risk after President Donald Trump ends DACA program

San Antonio , September 6, 2017

Students in Laredo, South Texas at risk after President Donald Trump ends DACA program

By ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Tuesday, President Donald Trump has subjected nearly 800,000 young immigrants — many who have lived in the U.S. since they were young children — to deportation.


More than 120,000 Texans have received two-year renewable work permits and reprieves from deportation under the five-year-old program, known as DACA. More than 150,000 nationwide can renew their work permits during a six-month grace period allowed by the Trump administration.


But those whose permits expire after March 5 will not be given a chance to renew them.


Even for those who are likely to have their work permits renewed, uncertainty reigned. Seven Flores, a 23-year-old from Mexico who graduated in May from Texas A&M International University, is waiting for his renewal.


Flores, who came to the U.S. when he was 9 years old and grew up in Laredo, said DACA recipients are living in a climate "of anxiety and fear" now that the program is ending and federal officials have the personal information of hundreds of thousands of immigrants on file.


"We came out of the shadows, as they say. We gave all our fingerprints and our names," he said. "I'm also afraid for my parents, because we gave them our addresses."


It's unclear how many students in Laredo may be affected by the changes to the DACA program. TAMIU said in a statement Tuesday that it does not track information regarding students' immigration status.


"We will continue to foster a safe, welcoming learning environment for students from diverse backgrounds seeking to expand their opportunities through education," the statement reads. "As a general rule, we cannot provide students with individual legal counsel, but we encourage those who need it to seek outside assistance."


U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar said that ending the DACA program is "not only a failure on humanitarian grounds, but also economically."


"In my home state of Texas over 120,640 young people, who have known no other country, have benefited from the DACA program," U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar said in a statement. "Of those, over 104,959 are working and contributing over $6 billion annually to the GDP.


"I will continue to fight to keep families together and to keep our American values strong while opposing the building of walls. We need a bipartisan comprehensive immigration approach to solve the challenges at our border and ensure that Dreamers have a place in the nation that they love. I call on my colleagues in Congress to act now and to stand up to protect families and the rights of everyone in our country."


One San Antonian who will lose her DACA protection: Andrea Fernandez, 21, a public policy student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her work permit expires next August.


"I'm thankful that some people are going to be able to renew (their permits), but sadly I'm a position that won't happen for me," said Fernandez, who's president of UTSA Immigrant Youth Leadership and hopes to graduate in December 2018.


Trump in a tweet Tuesday called for legislation that would provide permanent protections to young immigrants like Fernandez, but Congress hasn't passed any significant immigration reform in 20 years. When her work permit expires, Fernandez will find herself missing the income stream that helps her pay for books and tuition.


"By August, I'll be out of work," said Fernandez, who came from Mexico 12 years ago and overstayed her visa. "I will try to save as much money as I can. Hopefully if I get the opportunity to graduate next December, I will have enough money to pay that last semester of tuition."


Created in 2012 by former President Barack Obama, DACA offered work permits to immigrants who were in the U.S. illegally but had been living here since 2007 and were in school or had a degree or GED at the time they applied. To be eligible, DACA recipients had to be younger than 31 years old when the program was announced on June 15, 2012, with no criminal record.


The Department of Homeland Security is no longer accepting new applications for DACA. DHS will begin winding down the program, but will consider new applications and requests for renewal made before Tuesday. The department will accept renewal requests from all existing DACA recipients whose permits expire before March 5, but they must submit those requests by Oct. 5.


That means some immigrants will have work permits for two years. Others will see theirs expire in six months. According to DHS, as of Aug. 20 there were 34,487 new requests pending and 71,854 renewals pending. About 154,000 permits will expire between Tuesday and March 5.


DHS officials said Tuesday that the decision to end the program came after Attorney Jeff Sessions determined DACA would not likely survive a legal challenge threatened by Texas.


"This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens," Sessions said Tuesday. "In other words, the executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch."


Obama called the decision "cruel." He and DACA supporters called on Congress to quickly pass legislation similar to the Dream Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship to young immigrant children and was killed by a Senate filibuster in 2010.

Immigration activists noted that DACA recipients pay $2 billion a year in state and local taxes, including $300 million in Texas, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.


DHS officials on Tuesday sought to allay concerns that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees legal immigration, would freely share the personal information of DACA recipients with deportation officers.


Sessions issued his opinion on DACA after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in June threatened to challenge the program in court if it wasn't rescinded, giving the president until this week to decide. On Tuesday, Paxton applauded Trump and said that DACA "went far beyond the executive branch's legitimate authority."


During a conference call with reporters, DHS officials said phasing out the program was the "least disruptive" response.


"The administration was faced with two stark options," a senior DHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said on the call. "One: Do nothing and allow for the probability that the entire DACA program would be immediately enjoined by a court in a disruptive manner, immediately ending all protections. Or two: Phase out the program in an orderly fashion with minimal impact to beneficiaries."


In 2015, Paxton successfully halted the implementation of Obama's proposed Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, known as DAPA, which would have extended benefits similar to those offered by DACA to nearly 5 million immigrants who were in the country illegally.


It's not clear if he would have been successful in a DACA lawsuit. The Fifth Circuit of Appeals threw out a challenge to DACA in 2015.


DACA supporters said the court case could have drawn on for years through arguments and appeals, and could have given immigrants more time than the six-month moratorium on work permits.


"They had an opportunity to allow a court to determine the constitutionality of the program, and one judge's decision, especially at district court level, can be appealed to higher courts," said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. "This is President Trump's way of throwing a hot potato to Congress and letting them deal with it, and I think Congress should pass a Dream Act or immigration reform, but the president could also have held the program in place while that happened."


Demonstrators listening to Sessions on the radio in front of the Texas Attorney General's Office in Pharr groaned when Sessions used the term "illegal aliens." Others cried.


Kathia Ramirez, 24, toted her two young U.S. citizen children to the rally. She wasn't much older than they are now when her family told her to pick out a few belongings and prepare to leave her home in Veracruz.

Ramirez and her older sister have been DACA recipients since the program began. And her family was hopeful that her parents, who are unauthorized immigrants, would benefit from Obama's effort to expand the deferred action program to include parents.


"With DACA, I lost that fear of driving down the street and being stopped by Border Patrol," Ramirez said. "Now I'm scared I'll be driving with my kids and be stopped. I honestly don't know what is going to happen."


Sessions' statement that ending DACA "makes us safer and more secure" drew jeers from the program's supporters, who pointed to studies that have found immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than U.S. citizens, and media reports that a DACA recipients died in Houston during Tropical Storm Harvey rescue efforts. Sessions' followup comment that the Trump administration's policy toward immigrants "does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way" did little to protect him from accusations of racism.


"Frankly those statements by Jeff Sessions I think really showed true colors of what was behind this announcement," Marielena Hincapié, executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center, said in a conference call with reporters. "This announcement is no different than every other measure that this administration has taken against Muslims, against refugees against immigrant communities as a whole, and it's part of the blueprint of how they view America, and how they want to radically change the makeup of our country, which is all about race and all about class."