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Immigrant Advocates Prepare For Threats Against DACA Program


The fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants has been in limbo for months. These are the so-called DREAMers. They've been allowed to stay in the U.S. even though they came here illegally, many of them as infants and young children. The Trump administration is expected to decide soon whether to continue the program. In the meantime, NPR's Vanessa Romo reports that advocates and opponents are preparing for a fight.

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: The intersection leading up to the Texas State Capitol in Austin became the epicenter of a protest last Friday.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).

ROMO: In sweltering 103-degree heat, protesters marched into the streets and planted themselves on the blistering roads. Fifteen were eventually arrested.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Which side are you on, my people? Which side are you on?

ROMO: This sit-in was the latest action in a national movement that's uniting activists, lawyers, faith leaders and lawmakers to ensure that DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, remains in place. They are spurred by a looming lawsuit. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a coalition of nine state attorneys general have issued a threat. They will sue the Trump administration as early as September 5 if it doesn't start phasing out the program. That would end legal protections and cancel work permits for the 800,000 DREAMers. Their argument is that Obama overstepped his authority when he created the DACA program.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: What the states are really saying to the Trump administration is, look; it's time to fish or cut bait.

ROMO: That's Jessica Vaughan, director of policy for the Center for Immigration Studies. The Washington think tank fully endorses the state's challenge. Vaughan says win or lose, it's a way to force the White House into taking a position on the issue. Signals from the White House have been murky.

General John Kelly, who last week headed the Department of Homeland Security and is now the president's chief of staff, has said it's unlikely DACA would withstand legal scrutiny. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also has said the executive order is, quote, "very questionable." But they have stopped short of saying the program will be killed. When asked this week about DACA, Stephen Miller, the president's senior policy adviser, said...


STEPHEN MILLER: Whatever we do is going to prioritize the interests of American citizens and workers.

ROMO: Some members of Congress are not waiting around for a court decision. Lawmakers have filed four separate bills seeking to provide a pathway to citizenship for those eligible for the program. They hope congressional leaders will turn to the issue after focusing on health care for months. Miami Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, introduced a plan that has some support in his party.

CARLOS CURBELO: I really think the onus should be on us to recognize these young people for who they are. And we should allow them to fully experience what being an American is because they are.

ROMO: Much depends on Trump, but it's unclear where the President stands today. Throughout his campaign, he elicited roaring applause for saying things like this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I will immediately terminate President Obama's illegal executive order on immigration.

ROMO: But he had a much gentler tone in an ABC News interview recently.


TRUMP: They shouldn't be very worried. I do have a big heart. We're going to take care of everybody.

ROMO: DACA recipients like 26-year-old Karla Estrada, who lives in Los Angeles and works at an immigration law firm, are not putting a lot of faith in the administration continuing the program.

KARLA ESTRADA: If we are lucky, we might be able to apply for DACA one more time.

ROMO: She's making new plans for her future. She's saving up for law school.

ESTRADA: Because I know that I'm worth it, and I know that I'm an intelligent human being that has a lot to offer to humanity.

ROMO: But she says when she does become a lawyer, it will likely be in Canada or Europe. Vanessa Romo, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.