AUSTIN (KXAN) — After the Trump Administration’s announcement Tuesday that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be phased out over the next six months, the recipients of that program are left with many questions about how they will be able to work and continue with the lives they’ve established in the U.S.
The administration said Tuesday that the program is unconstitutional and goes against the their efforts to cut down on illegal immigration in the U.S.
The DACA program was implemented in 2012 and grants temporary protection from deportation for people who came to the U.S. as children. Recent reports show that there are nearly 800,000 of these “dreamers” in the U.S.
In order to have qualified for the program, they must be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, have come to the U.S. while younger than age 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.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and leaders from other states threatened legal action if the Trump administration did not take action to phase out DACA by Sept. 1.
Twenty-year-old St. Edward’s University student Jose Garibay came to the U.S. illegally with his family from Mexico sixteen years ago. He explained that DACA has allowed him to work and obtain a driver’s license in the U.S. Currently he works 20 hours a week providing college counseling for low-income high school students. Now he worries about what will happen when his current work permit expires and the six month phase-out period ends.
“I’ve gone through middle, elementary, high school, and college, here in the U.S., and to have someone say that because you weren’t born here you don’t have the right to work and pursue your dreams, it is crushing,” Garibay said. “The job I do right now I absolutely love and it’s gotten me thinking, what are the real possibilities coming with that March deadline?”
Garibay isn’t the only one wondering, Austin immigration attorney Jason Finkleman said that his phone has been ringing non-stop Tuesday with concerns from DACA recipients and the people who employ them.
“Today has been one of the saddest days as an immigration attorney practicing over a decade, to talk with young, talented adults across the nation who are here working as doctors, and lawyers, and accountants, and research professionals, to tell them there’s going to be an end to their American dream,” Finkleman said.
“There’s not many options for these individuals to obtain status or to become lawful under the law, so they are unfortunately going to have to go back to working in the underground economy so to speak,” Finkleman explained.
He added that many employers are also confused about how this will impact their DACA employees.
“The advice we’re giving them is what the change in the program is, which is they are able to continue working for you so long as they have an unexpired employment authorization card, but once that card expires, there is no longer the opportunity to renew that card, and once that card is expired, employers cannot legally hire these undocumented individuals,” Finkleman said. That means these employers will eventually have to fire their DACA recipient employees.
Finkleman added that driver’s licenses belonging to DACA recipients will remain valid until their expiration date, at which point they most likely won’t be able to renew without proper documentation.
He notes this could all change if Congress implements immigration reform in the coming months, and he has some hope for some pending legislation.
But he also worries that while Congress decides on a course of action, people will try to take advantage of the uncertainty by charging dreamers for unsubstantiated guidance. Finkleman said that these non-legal representatives known as “notarios” are actually common the Austin area. He recommends that anyone with questions about the program seek a qualified legal representative.
“It’s been really really sad to have those conversations with people to know there’s not a light currently at the end of the tunnel for them,” said Finkleman. He is concerned this phase-out will have negative repercussions for both DACA recipients and for the workforce.
Back at St. Edward’s, Garibay said he is still holding out hope that he can pursue his dreams of a career in education when he graduates college.
“I think one of the things my parents always expressed to me is it’s important to get that degree to be able to get your dreams and to be able to push for that,” he said.
He hopes that Congress is able to move forward with immigration reform which creates a more permanent path to citizenship for people like him.
In the coming months he plans on working with other DACA students through the University Leadership Initiative to help them navigate the phase out of this program.
“I think it’s important to help people realize they’re not alone at this time, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone and there’s a sense of hopelessness to it all,” he said.