Bu Calvin Prashad
Fearing the end of the DACA program, activists and universities scrambled to assure young people that they would not risk deportation under the Trump administration. DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program that protects undocumented individuals who were brought into this country as children and had no say in violating immigration law. DACA let these children work towards legalizing their status as well as go to school or join the military.
Donald Trump, as a candidate, made conflicting statements about immigration while campaigning, leaving the future of DACA ambiguous. His rhetoric on immigration, ranging from the fanciful “border wall” to a call to end birthright citizenship, has activists convinced that the program’s days are numbered. Trump and his surrogates have also threatened to use federal funding as a bargaining tool against “sanctuary cities,” such as New York, that decline to cooperate with immigration enforcement.
Even with DACA, protections for childhood arrivals are limited. Adam Crasper, a man born in South Korea who was adopted at the age of 3, was deported in November after 37 years of living in the United States. Though 41 and with a family, his adoptive parents neglected to file for U.S. citizenship. Abused as a child and placed in foster care, Crasper committed a few misdemeanors in his youth, including breaking into his former foster parent’s house to retrieve belongings from his childhood in Korea. The Obama administration, which has deported more undocumented persons than any other administration, stresses that it has prioritized those with criminal records for deportation. However, little protection exists for people like Crasper, who now returns to a country he doesn’t remember, not knowing the language and leaving his family without their father.
On Dec. 2, community groups rallied at Diversity Plaza, in Jackson Heights to protest growing hostility against ethnic and religious minorities. One youth, who gave her name as Poonam, spoke at the rally and said she was a beneficiary of DACA.
“The current political climate has increased the uncertainty and fear in all of our communities,” she said.
Community organizations anticipate the possibility that DACA recipients will lose their ability to work and protection from deportation. In a press release, the MinKwon Center, a Flushing-based community center for the Korean- American community, announced expanded access to legal services, including assistance with renewals for those with statuses expiring within six months. The organization said it planned to coordinate with other organizations against “federal government hostile to immigrants in a way not seen in generations.”
Area universities also moved to assure international students and students who might be undocumented that they were protected. In a statement, Andrew Hamilton, president of New York University, reiterated the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. He cited New York as a sanctuary city and pledged to treat undocumented students as equals “in regard to housing, privacy and other matters.”
Regardless of federal funding, the university will continue to provide funding to undocumented students. Columbia University also pledged to protect students that lose DACA status or are otherwise affected by policy in Washington.
Even if President-elect Trump discovers a pragmatic streak and scales back deportations, for hundreds of thousands of people the loss of DACA is the loss of the right to work. This exacerbates the divide between traditional employment and cash-based employment. The cash-based economy exists without legal protections and is notorious for exploitation. The disaffected voters who put Trump in office will find that stripping people’s right to work does not create jobs for themselves or their communities.