Hundreds gather at the old capitol building to support DACA. Thursday, September 7, 2017. –photo by Zak Neumann
On Monday, the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs issued an official statement calling the impact of President Trump’s order to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program “drastic and devastating,” and urging on “the Trump Administration to put in place a program that will protect the rights of not only the Dreamers, but their families.” It was an unusually forthright political statement for the commission, which typically confines its activities to social and cultural issues, and is perhaps most widely known for sponsoring the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame.
President Obama issued an executive order creating DACA in June 2012. Under DACA, the Department of Homeland Security ceased initiating deportation proceedings against undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before turning 16, have lived in the country for five or more years and are in school, have graduated from high school or are military veterans of good standing. No one convicted of a crime is eligible for DACA.
DACA does not confer citizenship or advance the citizenship claims of those who qualify for it, but it does allow those covered, often called “Dreamers,” to apply for such common legal documents as a driver’s license and a work permit. Approximately 2,800 Iowa residents are covered by DACA. Nationwide, it’s estimated DACA covers 800,000 people.
“They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” President Obama said when he announced the program. President Obama has defended his decision to enact DACA through an executive order, saying that Congress’ failure to reform immigration law made presidential action necessary.
Republicans, including then-Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, denounced DACA as an unconstitutional overreach of presidential power. On Sept. 5, Sessions, now the Attorney General of the United States, announced President Trump’s decision to terminate DACA in six months. President Trump has said that it is up to Congress to pass a law if Dreamers are going to be allowed to stay in the country.
During last year’s presidential campaign, candidate Trump repeatedly denounced DACA, promising to “immediately terminate” it. Since the election, Trump has soften his rhetoric on DACA, often making vague statements like the one he made at a February press conference: “We are going to deal with DACA with heart.”
But a White House memo sent to supporters in Congress on the day of Sessions’ announcement clearly stated that the administration’s position is that DACA is ending.
The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.
“We felt that [President Trump’s decision] was a step back from the little that had been accomplished when it comes to some reform of immigration law,” Jeannette Brown, chair of the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs, told Little Village. “At one point or another, most of the commissioners have been approached by members of the community asking us to take a stand. So, we wanted to let the Latino community know that we stand behind them and we do support the DACA program.”
The commission, which was created as the Spanish-Speaking People’s Commission in 1976, is tasked with serving the needs of Iowans of Latino heritage and advising the state government on issues related the Latino community. Brown said that recently the commission had been focused on education and health care issues, but all the members of commission felt it was important to address what was happening with DACA.
According to the statement that the six members of the commission approved unanimously during their Sept. 9 conference call,
The Commission cannot support a decision that treats our Latino immigrants in such a callous manner; it is against all the values that we believe and live by as Latinos, allies, and most importantly, Iowans. Furthermore, this decision will only divide the country even more and divide Latino families and their communities.
Brown said the commission realized the DACA decision is a hotly debated issue. “We don’t want to make this political at all,” she explained, “but we have to make a stand.”
The commission’s action follows last week’s decision by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller to join with the attorneys general of 14 other states and the District of Columbia in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s authority to terminate DACA. “Our lawsuit alleges the Trump administration’s action to dismantle DACA violates peoples’ due process, denies them equal protection under our constitution, and causes ‘immediate harm’ to those whom DACA is intended to protect,” Miller, a Democrat, said in a press release on Sept. 6.
During a press conference on the day President Trump’s DACA decision was announced, Gov. Kim Reynolds was asked if she supported Trump’s decision. “I do,” she said. “Because I believe what he is saying is that Congress needs to do their job, and I, too, believe that Congress needs to do their job.”
But as Reynolds, who supported Trump during last year’s Republican primaries, continued her somewhat rambling answer, it seemed as if she was in favor of maintaining the status quo and continuing to defer action on the deportation of Dreamers.
I believe that with the limited resources that we have, I think we should focus on illegal immigrants who have committed a crime — have willingly committed a crime — and that they should be exported [sic] home. Not individuals that have [sic], this is all they know. They have grown up in Iowa and America, they are trying to do the right things, and I believe that with the limited resources that we have, we should focus on illegal immigrants who have committed a crime.
Reynolds said she hoped Congress would be “streamlining the process” regarding immigration and “figuring out a way that they could maybe find a pathway to citizenship” for the Dreamers.
“I don’t know how reasonable it is to send 800,000 immigrants back,” Reynolds added.