After months of negotiations, lawmakers are no closer to a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In a game of tug of war, the White House and some Republicans are insistent on adding new immigration restrictions as a contingency in order to continue the Obama-era program that allows hundreds of thousands of children brought to the U.S. illegally to live and work without punishment.
Last week, President Trump’s administration proposed a deal that included a path to citizenship for more than one million undocumented immigrants, but also included a push for enhanced enforcement powers. If Congress can’t reach a deal by the March 5 expiration date, 800,000 people nationwide—including 8,000 in Maryland—will lose their status, making them an easy target for deportation.
“It’s a tradeoff in a sense,” said University of Maryland professor Christina Getrich. “On the one hand, it’s helping people like Dreamers while at the same time hurting their parents and family members that weren’t eligible.”
In order to qualify for DACA, applicants are required to be fingerprinted, have passports, and update their address with each move, making it easier for Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) to locate them.
“Most of the Dreamers’ parents are undocumented or some of them have temporary protective status, which is also ending,” Getrich said. “So it’s not only scary for the DACA individual that the government has all this information on, it can really endanger the whole family.”
Just last week, it was announced that ICE has now gained access to a nationwide license plate tracking database. This will provide access to billions of license plate records and provide real time location tracking to assist with ongoing investigations. The agency also made the decision to expand deportations beyond criminal offenders, further igniting rumors of politically motivated enforcement.
At a rally in Highlandtown last February following an onslaught of ICE raids nationwide, DACA recipient and Ecuadoran immigrant Lourdes Ortega spoke with Baltimore about the fear in her community.
“Families have been scared to leave their homes,” she said. “They don’t want to go outside and they’re afraid to send their children to school.”
The heavily Latino population of Southeast Baltimore is especially nervous about the DACA program being in jeopardy and the latest announcements from ICE.
“It’s also an attack on our economy,” said Catalina Rodriguez-Lima, director of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs. “A lot of these people have bought homes, go to schools, are business owners, and create jobs.”
At President Trump's first State of the Union address last night, he spoke about immigration and family-based migration saying that programs like DACA and the diversity visa are the reasons for increased terror attacks in the U.S. The president used those statements as leverage to garner support for his proposed plan to allow 1.8 million undocumented immigrants to gain legal status in exchange for increased border security. In fact, he never mentioned the future of DACA or the Dreamers in his speech aside from proclaiming, "Americans are dreamers, too."
“Tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties—Democrats and Republicans—to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed,” Trump said. “My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans—to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream, because Americans are dreamers, too.”
Local Democratic lawmakers were not pleased by Trump’s rhetoric regarding the future of immigration policy and took to Twitter to express their disdain. Senator Chris Van Hollen commented that the only part he enjoyed about the address was, “My fellow Americans.” When it came to increased border security, he had more to say about that.
“The administration’s unrelenting efforts to tear immigrant families apart and waste taxpayers’ money on an ineffective wall has put thousands of families in crisis,” he tweeted. “And in both word and deed, Trump has diminished our stature around the world and undermined our national security.”
Senator Ben Cardin was also not shy about criticizing the president’s remarks.
“Our union endures,” he said on Twitter. “But America’s standing is diminished in the eyes of the world because of [President Trump]’s brazen attempts to shut our doors and marginalize the compassion and opportunity that America has symbolized for generations.”
Maryland’s only Republican congressional delegate Andy Harris has not yet commented on the State of the Union address, however, last week he spoke about his thoughts on DACA and the government shutdown.
“Senate Dems want to shut down the federal government and deny health insurance to children across America over an arbitrary DACA deadline,” he tweeted.
With both sides opposing the administration’s plan, it seems the only option being thrown around is a deal that requires a trade of sorts—aggressive immigration measures, like a $25 million wall, in exchange for DACA—making citizens feel like pieces in a larger political game.
“To be a political pawn in the way that they’ve become is just really disheartening,” Getrich said. “I think for a while it was empowering being a DACA recipient, it felt like people actually cared—it sort of validated who they were. But I think that people started feeling like no one actually care and it’s just for political reasons.”