DACA immigrants terrified as President Trump decides their fate

(USA TODAY) -- Leezia Dhalla is spending her days glued to the news, anxiously waiting for President Trump finally to announce whether he will kill the program that has protected her and nearly 800,000 other young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Trump is considering ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, a program he inherited from President Barack Obama that allows DREAMERS — immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children — to remain.

After weeks of speculation over the future of the program, Trump told reporters Friday that “We love the DREAMers," and will announce a decision "sometime over the weekend ... probably Sunday, Saturday. The latest will be Monday."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later Friday that the decision would come Tuesday.

That leaves DACA enrollees terrified heading into what should have been an enjoyable Labor Day weekend.

Dhalla, 27, legally entered the U.S. from Canada with her family when she was 6, but they lost their legal status. After being approved for DACA in 2012, Dhalla has been able to buy a home, purchase a car and work at different jobs. Now, with the future of her status unclear, she doesn't know what to think.


"Many of us are having that moment where our life is flashing before our eyes," said Dhalla, a communications associate at FWD.us, an advocacy group founded by technology leaders that include Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. "I’m leaving tomorrow to go to Kentucky to my best friend’s wedding. Is this the last wedding in the United States I’ll get to go to?"

The DACA program grants two-year stays for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States before their 16th birthday who have attended school or joined the military and have not committed any serious crimes. It also grants them work permits.

Trump faces a Tuesday deadline imposed by Republican leaders in 10 states. The group, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, has grown impatient with the president's decision to leave DACA in place through his first seven months in office after vowing to end it during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The group successfully used a lawsuit to block a broader program created by Obama to protect up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. If he doesn't phase out DACA by Tuesday, they have vowed to sue the administration to kill it.

"The DACA amnesty that President Obama initiated orders (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents to break the law, it also violates two other federal laws, and the constitutional separation of powers," Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas and Trump adviser, told MSNBC on Friday.

Expectations of an imminent decision by Trump have prompted a massive public outcry by DACA supporters, including law professors who say the program is legal, Democratic governors who say DREAMers have helped their states, faith leaders who call DACA a moral imperative, and technology leaders who praise the DREAMers' contributions to the U.S. economy.

"If the Trump administration ends DACA, it’ll be one of the most disgraceful, cruel and heartless decisions in modern American politics," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a group that advocates for immigrants in the U.S.

Even some Republican leaders in Congress are pleading with Trump to hold off on his decision to give them time to pass legislation that would let DREAMers stay permanently.

"These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., told WCLO, a local radio station.

The loudest pleas have come from the DREAMers themselves, who are facing the prospect of losing their deportation protections and their ability to legally work in the U.S.

Oscar Hernandez, a DACA enrollee who was brought to the U.S. from his native Mexico when he was 2, spent the week volunteering to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. He said the prospect of Trump revoking DACA was a "moral nightmare" that will only serve to continue the "racist agenda" that swept Trump into office in November.

Still, Hernandez said DACA recipients are ready to fight for their rights one more time. They have seen their hopes dashed several times when Congress came close, but ultimately failed, to pass a law protecting them. And now, even if Trump ends the program, he said they're ready to keep on working.

"No matter what happens today or tomorrow or the next day, we continue to fight for our people," he said. "When immigrant communities come under attack, we rise up, we fight back and we win."

Contributing: Gregory Korte and Eliza Collins in Washington, D.C.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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