AUSTIN( KXAN) — After Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called for President Donald Trump’s administration to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program earlier this week, DACA recipients in Texas are wondering what will happen next with their status.
Paxton signed the letter along with leaders from 10 other states on June 29 calling on the Secretary of Homeland Security to rescind the Obama Administration memorandum authorizing DACA and to not renew or issue new DACA permits. The letter states that if the executive branch does not agree to rescind DACA by Sept. 5, 2017, the state leaders will continue their lawsuit challenging the DACA program.
Juan Belman, an Austin resident who has been a DACA recipient since 2013, explained that as a recent UT Austin graduate, he was looking forward to starting a new job in a few weeks. But the effort to remove DACA could put his ability to work in jeopardy. Belman came to the United States with his mother and younger brother 14 years ago.
“And we didn’t have the opportunity to come with a visa, so we ended up crossing the river through Laredo with a coyote and all that and we eventually got to Austin,” Belman explained. “And as a 10-year-old boy I didn’t know what was going on, the only thing I knew was I wanted to see my father.”
When DACA was announced in 2012, Belman was already at UT and spent time educating his peers about DACA, and eventually applied on his own. DACA has allowed him to legally work in the U.S., it has also allowed him to obtain a drivers license.
Belman sees the effort to end DACA as a “bad move.”
“DACA has helped many students who have graduated university to be able to exercise those degrees. We have many teachers, many engineers, who have contributed to the Texas economy by providing that labor force,” Belman said.
Belman works providing assistance to other immigrants. On Sunday, he was teaching about SB4 and the very changes Paxton is proposing. Belman says he doesn’t know what he would do if he is no longer able to work legally.
But Andy Hogue, communications director of the Travis County Republican Party, sees Paxton’s letter differently.
“The fact of the matter is [DACA recipients] are here illegally and the law needs to be applied now,” Hogue said. “How to apply it to them is something Congress needs to decide, we don’t need the executive branch deciding it for us.”
In Hogue’s eyes, the debate over DACA is an issue of federalism, rooted in conflicts between federal, state, and local immigration policy.
“We talk about Dreamers wanting to come to America and achieve the American dream. Well, in 1776 we had a dream of our own, that the law wouldn’t be written by bureaucrats, or by the king, even. That we would actually go through Congress — our elected officials — to write the laws,” he said. “And, so far, that hasn’t happened with DACA. Now there may be a bill yet to come, but right now DACA is an executive decision, and we believe it was done unilaterally without the consent of our elected officials.”
However, Robert Painter, who works with American Gateways providing resources to low-income, undocumented immigrants in Central Texas, describes the notion of removing DACA as “cruel.”
“I think at this point there are probably 14,000 DACA-eligible people in Texas alone. We work with hundreds of them here each year, and we’ve seen that these are some of the brightest, most motivated people our community has to offer. And to target them, it seems wrong,” Painter said.
Painter said that he and his organization support comprehensive immigration reform, but only if that keeps in mind the needs of the people currently receiving DACA.
“Most of the DACA recipients we see came to this country when they were small children — 2 or 3 years old, sometimes small infants. So, their life has been here,” Painter said. “Rescinding the program is effectively saying to people who have built their lives around being in the U.S. ‘We don’t want you here. We would prefer you would go back home.'”
Juan Belman agreed that Paxton’s letter sends a clear message to DACA recipients:
“We see how they see us, we see how they’re not really supportive of all Texans,” Belman said.
Earlier in June President Trump’s Administration rescinded a different policy, Deferred Action of Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), but they announced that for the time being, they would not make any changes to the DACA program. However, as Republican Hogue noted, one of President Trump’s campaign promises was to get rid of the DACA program.
“So, we’ve been waiting for that, and a lot of our state-level solutions — especially in the last legislature — were tailored around the expectation that DACA would go away. So if the Trump Administration doesn’t deliver, then that’s a campaign promise not kept,” Hogue said.
People who are eligible for DACA must be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, have come to the U.S. while younger than 16, have continuously lived in the U.S. between 2007 and the present and have not committed any felonies or significant misdemeanors. DACA recipients must also either be in school or have graduated from high school or obtained a GED or be honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces.