AS President Donald Trump marked the completion of two years into his presidency just last month, immigration remains to be the biggest issue for his administration, which has remained persistent in its immigrant curbing efforts and the wall along U.S.-Mexico border.
In an immigration rights briefing on Thursday, February 28, immigration reform and rights advocates highlighted what they saw were the key issues still yet to be resolved.
“As we’ve seen, the White House has rolled out dozens and dozens of anti-immigrant policies over the last two years in everything starting with the Muslim ban, attacks on refugees, to last year’s family separations, anti-immigration legislative proposals, the public charge rule, and many other attacks,” said Kerri Talbot, director of federal advocacy at The Immigration Hub based in Washington, D.C.
“The immigration community has just had so much to deal with within the last two years,” she added.
Continuous DACA challenges
Among the policies continuously challenged policies since Trump came into office were the administration’s policies on those who have Dreamer-related protection, such as those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Under the DACA program, which was enacted under the Obama administration in 2012 to protect those who came to the U.S. as children, approximately 800,000 individuals have registered with the vast majority having renewed once or more times since the program’s inception.
But in September 2017, the Trump administration terminated the program and said the program would be phased out with no renewals or new applicants being accepted.
But several lawsuits were immediately filed challenging the termination, with three federal courts issuing and concurring orders in January 2018 saying that DACA recipients should be able to renew their DACA status. That has been the status since.
And while the Trump administration has since then petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the DACA cases and determine whether or not the termination was lawful, the Court has not yet made any announcement as to when or if that would happen.
Allison Davenport, the supervising attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said that if the Supreme Court were to take the case, it wouldn’t be heard until fall of 2019 at the earliest, and thus would not get a decision until 2020.
If the Supreme Court decides not to take the case, Davenport said federal orders would continue, but lawsuits challenging the termination would remain pending and would continue winding up through the legal system in different federal courts.
But the big takeaway as of now, she said, is that all who have DACA or have had DACA at any time in the past, are eligible to renew status that would provide them a new two year period protection from deportation as well as a work permit. She said this is true regardless of when the status expired.
“It doesn’t matter if it expired two weeks ago, or three years ago. They’re still eligible to apply for renewal,” said Davenport. “The rule of thumb is that if you have DACA, you should apply to renew that case six months in advance of that expiration date. That way, your case can be processed and you can receive a new approval, a new work permit without any gaps between when your current case expires and your new case being approved.”
She also urged that people get legal consultation with legal experts to explore options they may have in terms of protection.
Davenport said studies have shown that among those who have applied for DACA and gone through consultations, between 15 and 25 percent were eligible for some other form of immigration status or protection but just didn’t know about it.
“We really encourage people to go ahead and get a legal consultation with a quality legal service provider to see if they might be eligible for some other form of status or protection,” said Davenport.
Threats to plus charge rule
In October 2018, the Trump administration published a proposal to change “public charge” determinations for immigrants trying to adjust their immigration status in the U.S.
While it has long allowed for immigrants to have their residency status rejected if they are seen to be a financial burden to the U.S. government, or a “public charge”—a term that has been used in immigration law since the 1800s—the Trump administration’s draft rule substantially broadens the definition to include immigrants who use one or more government programs that were previously excluded.
These programs include health, nutrition, and housing programs, said Mayra Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership, a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization.
The proposed rule also adds specific requirements to the public charge for income, health, age, and even English proficiency, added Alvarez.
But while the change is just a proposal, she said it’s clear that much of the damage has already been done.
“Too many families across California and across the country are living in fear, are confused about what policies have and have not changed, and are reacting in response,” said Alvarez.
“For example, if the proposed change to public charge goes forward, hundreds of thousands of immigrant parents in California may disenroll their children from health insurance, food stamps, and other federally subsidized programs because they fear that receiving these benefits will make it impossible for them to become permanent residents in the United States,” added Alvarez.
Based on an analysis conducted by The Children’s Partnership and Kidsdata.org, it is estimated that between 113,000 and 311,000 children in California alone would be withdrawn from food stamps or Calfresh. Furthermore, an estimated 259,000 to 628,000 children would be withdrawn from critical health programs like Medical in California.
“Today, we have the lowest uninsured rate of kids in the nation, but if this public charge change would move forward, we run the risk of increasing the risk of uninsured children from three percent to up above eight percent,” said Alvarez. “That is taking us backwards.”
She added though that before the Trump administration would be able to finalize the proposal, the government would have to review more than 266,000 comments on the proposal. Just under 64,000 comments have been reviewed so far.
Pushes through legislation
In light of the continuous challenges to immigration rights, Talbot said pushes for constructive immigration reform has meant relying on litigation in protecting individuals from deportation.
For example, the Supreme Court has not considered Dreamer related litigation until the next term which means the earliest a decision would be around February of 2020.
“So at least through this litigation, Dreamers would have been able to be protected through most of Trump’s third term,” said Talbot.
She pointed out that House Democrats will be re-introducing new language to the Dream Act on March 12, and that she’s hopeful another immigration reform bill may be introduced in the summer with House Democrats starting to talk about it covering the entire undocumented population.
“Generally, we’re just trying to shine a light on all horrible policies that Trump has put into place,” said Talbot.
Talbot said that while it’s unlikely that much change will come under the current administration, efforts in immigration reform, she hopes big change will come in the new 2021 administration.
“It would be fantastic if the White House would actually decide to be more moderate and come to the table, but there’s really no reason to think that they’re going to change their ways. So frankly, we just don’t really trust the White House to be able to negotiate on issues of Dreamers and TPS,” said Talbot. (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)