On Friday, the news hit that President Donald Trump intends to do away with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that has protected undocumented people who came to this country as children.
Trump had railed against the program on the campaign trail, but ultimately opted to keep it in place after taking office. Now he appears to have changed his mind again, leaving many DACA recipients in limbo as they await the president’s decision, which could leave more than 750,000 people vulnerable to deportation.
Here’s what both DACA recipients and allies can do to prepare for the potential end of the program.
Weigh the risks and benefits of new enrollment
In order to be covered by DACA, undocumented people who arrived in the country as children must first register with the federal government. The process involves collection of extensive personal and biometric information as well as a fee of nearly $500.
Now the immigrants rights community is divided over whether to encourage new DACA applicants to expose themselves and take on the costs of federal protection.
Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said in an interview that DACA applicants should assess their own risks and potential benefits on a personal basis and know which resources are available to them.
“I think [for new applicants] it depends on the individual situation and how much this is going to put them at risk if they apply for DACA,” Kinoshita said. “There are many people who feel that even though you’re exposing yourself to not only the government, but potentially a very anti-immigrant, hostile government, that as long as the program still exists, if you get it, you get protection from deportation and a work permit that could be for two more years.”
According to Kinoshita, one of the top concerns of new applicants is whether the undocumented status or criminal history of other people in their households might put them at greater risk for deportation. Kinoshita recommends that new applicants with situations like these reach out to an immigration lawyer who can help assess their specific case.
Consider early renewal
Current DACA enrollees whose DACA status may be about to expire or have already expired and are considering the process of renewal face questions about whether to go ahead with renewal.
“If someone is renewing, that means the government already knows about them, already has taken their biometrics, already has information about where they’ve worked, perhaps, or gone to school,” Kinoshita said. “They could risk losing the money, but there are many options now to help have the filing fee paid for. The Mexican Consulate has funds for some Mexican nationals. There are many grant programs in some of the larger, more immigrant friendly cities. And there are also low-cost loan options.”
Kinoshita says her organization has also seen a lot of current enrollees who’ve decided to renew early in the event that the program is ended but current enrollees are allowed to keep their status until it expires.
Know your state’s DACA benefits
In some states, DACA affects more than just one’s immigration status. In several states DACA is tied to other benefits, most notably eligibility for state financial aid and in-state tuition in public colleges.
States like Washington and Hawaii have tied eligibility for these programs to DACA. Some states allow undocumented people access to tuition benefits regardless of immigration status while others don’t offer any assistance to undocumented people.
Alerting sympathetic lawmakers to which benefits are at risk of disappearing and supporting broader efforts to extend benefits to undocumented people can help make sure that other areas of life for undocumented people aren’t also thrown into chaos if DACA is revoked.
Don’t leave the country if you can avoid it
Under current law, DACA recipients can leave the country under something called “advanced parole,” which allows them to depart and return to the United States safely.
But legal experts say that, if circumstance allows, DACA recipients should try and stay in the country right now.
“Right now, if someone is thinking of leaving the United States, or already outside of the country, there’s no guarantee that they will be allowed back into the country on that advanced parole if the program has ended,” Kinoshita said. “It’s possible that President Trump will indicate that they cannot re-enter the country. So, the risk is really high.”
As with the other issues, Kinoshita recommends carefully weighing personal circumstances.
“There may be some people for whom that risk is outweighed by the potential benefits that they have, and or they have a real urgent need, they have to travel,” she said. “But the risk is really high — certainly for anyone who is already outside of the country, they should come back in before the announcement of this program ending in case it forecloses their ability to return.
Allies, step up in protests
One of the reasons that former President Barack Obama eventually signed the executive order establishing DACA was that a large number of unprotected, undocumented people risked arrest and deportation in acts of civil disobedience aimed at pressuring the president to do something.
But today, the circumstances have changed and legal organizations like ILRC are less eager to encourage undocumented protesters to risk arrest.
“I want to acknowledge that the advances that we’ve made in immigrant rights ... were really made by courageous acts of undocumented young people who were willing to risk arrest and engage in acts of civil disobedience,” Kinoshita said.
“But, at this point, because any contact with law enforcement could result in really negative immigration consequences ... my call would really be to those of us who can bear a higher level of risk because we have U.S. citizenship ... to rise to our highest level of risk to support this community and to show our resistance to these kinds of policies that target immigrant communities.”
Support and advocate for “sanctuary” jurisdictions
The move to turn states and municipalities into sanctuary jurisdictions is an obvious way to help protect undocumented people regardless of their status. While many places already describe themselves as sanctuary cities, there is actually an array of “sanctuary” policies that states and localities can adopt to protect undocumented people. ILRC has identified seven specific policy areas and you can check whether officials where you live have implemented them here and you can learn what immigrant-related legislation has been introduced in your state here.