Hope has once again turned to fear for the children of undocumented immigrants on Martha’s Vineyard after the Trump administration on Tuesday officially rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA.
World language teacher and MVTimes Brazilian columnist Juliana Germani described a scene on the first day of classes Tuesday at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School of students distraught by President Trump’s decision to end a program that provides a sanctuary for children.
“It was horrendous to have to talk about this [on] the first day of school,” she wrote in a text message. “So my brother went to college for four years for nothing?” she quoted one of her students as saying.
The start of the school year is supposed to be a new beginning filled with hope, but instead some students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School are faced with the uncertainty that comes with the threat of deportation.
The Times asked to speak with students, but as of Wednesday’s deadline had not yet received permission. Ms. Germani predicted many would be afraid to talk and expose themselves to a government that may be seeking to have them removed. “Even though they have come out of the shadows, they will almost have to go back to it,” she wrote.
In contrast, Ms. Germani wrote about 10 Brazilian young adults in 2015 who were benefiting greatly from DACA, looking at college opportunities, and working three jobs to help support a family.
“My life has definitely changed because of the act,” a young man enrolled in college said at the time. “I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t qualified for it.”
Tuesday’s decision rescinds a 2012 executive order signed by then-President Barack Obama. DACA provided sanctuary to the children of illegal immigrants brought to the United States, and coined the name Dreamers for those provided with work permits by the government.
President Trump delayed the effective date of the program’s end by six months to give Congress a chance to act, according to his tweets and a press briefing held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
At his press briefing, A.G. Sessions said, “The nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we admit each year, and that means all cannot be accepted. This does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way. It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics show Massachusetts has 7,934 DACA recipients, and 6,903 DACA workers. It’s estimated the loss of those workers would cost the commonwealth $606.6 million in gross domestic product per year.
It’s unclear how many people on the Island are directly affected by DACA, but it was already creating uneasiness in the business community before the announcement, Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, said: “Obviously this kind of news is disheartening. It will force families to make decisions that trickle down to business. How that will play out, I don’t know.”
Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School principal Sara Dingledy said there’s no way to know exactly how many students are affected. The school tiptoes around the issue of someone’s immigration status to provide a public education.
“I know we have some students who are not documented,” she said. “We’re sensitive in talking to them, not asking them. We don’t know who is and who isn’t [documented].”
The high school fulfills its responsibility to educate all Island children, most of them from the age of 14 to 18, except for special needs students, who can receive services into their 20s, Ms. Dingledy said. “We are, without conditions, committed to educating that group of children to provide them with the opportunity to have a successful next step.”
Ms. Dingledy checked with the guidance office and, in a followup email to The Times, said counselors are also unaware of precise numbers. “They don’t really know either, since we don’t ask that information,” she wrote.
Massachusetts politicians reacted to Tuesday’s announcement with condemnation and resolve.
“Democracy, justice, and our shared values demand that Congress must take swift action and bring a vote to the floor to preserve DACA,” U.S. Rep. William Keating said. “The nearly 790,000 ‘Dreamers’ came to this country as children by no choice of their own. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates, and members of our Armed Forces who have put their lives on the line to defend our nation. President Trump’s shameful decision and Attorney General Session’s statement fail to take into account that Dreamers are by definition taxpaying, law-abiding, contributing Americans, the majority of whom know no other home. Democrats and Republicans alike have opposed this repeal. Congress can, and must, take action to make DACA law.”
A defiant Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday vowed to fight the repeal in court. “In the coming days, I will be joining with other state Attorneys General from around the country in filing suit to defend DACA,” she said at a press conference Tuesday. “We are going to court to defend DACA and to fight for these Dreamers.”
On Wednesday, she filed a federal suit against the Trump administration, according to a press release from her office.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, is being led by AG Healey, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and filed by a total of 16 attorneys general: New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.
“Dreamers are Americans. They go to our schools, serve in our military, work and start businesses in our communities,” AG Healey said. “We will not allow President Trump to betray these young people. Today, I’m joining with state attorneys general from across the country to defend the rights of Dreamers and the promises our government made to them.”
We Stand Together/Estamos Todos Juntos MV, an organization created out of concern for what would happen to the Island’s immigration population after Donald Trump’s victory in November, had a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, but the discussion of course turned to the administration’s decision to revoke DACA, Irene Bright-Dumm wrote in an email.
“We support MV Dreamers and families, and are encouraged by the statements that Senator Ed Markey and MA Attorney General Maura Healey made on 9.5.17, including their commitments to legislation and litigation to protect our young people,” Ms. Bright-Dumm wrote in an email. “As AG Healey said, ‘We can’t stand by and watch as our communities are targeted and our people are marginalized.’ Those who are directly affected and those who want to learn more can find resources at Together We Can Protect.”
DACA came with considerable safeguards, which makes President Trump’s decision perplexing to Massachusetts immigration advocates. DACA allowed those qualifying as undocumented immigrants to receive two-year work permits and exemption from deportation, but only if they had no felony convictions, posed no threat to national security, were enrolled in school and/or graduated from high school or had gotten a GED, according to the USCIS website. The recipients also had to have entered the country before their 16th birthday, and as of June 15, 2007, the online guidelines state.
In exchange for the protection, the Dreamers had to give up information, some of it incriminating, that will make it easy for the government to track them down — date of entry, length of stay, addresses, school information, and Social Security numbers.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, whose district includes Martha’s Vineyard, called Tuesday’s announcement “cruel and unconscionable” in an email to The Times.
“Deporting 800,000 children who came with their parents to this country, grew up here, went to college and work here is cruel and unconscionable,” he wrote. “To the Dreamers on the Vineyard and across the state: This Island and this country is your home, and we will do everything we can to protect you. Islanders concerned about their legal status should contact the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition for free legal services, or reach out to my office at 617-722-2430, ext. 6, and we can help direct you to the proper resources.”
What does Tuesday’s decision mean?
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is no longer accepting initial requests for DACA, but will adjudicate initial requests for DACA accepted by Sept. 5, 2017.
- USCIS will no longer approve advance parole requests associated with DACA.
- USCIS is only adjudicating DACA renewal requests received by Oct. 5, 2017, from current beneficiaries whose benefits will expire between Sept. 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018.
Source: USCIS website