Fierce national debate about immigration is weighing heavily on some Massachusetts residents as the fate of DACA consumes the lives of those it protects.
March 5th was supposed to be the day that DACA died. The Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program begun by the Obama administration back in June 2012 has been in the crosshairs of the Trump White House since September 2017.
The program provides protections to the almost 800,000 undocumented people living in the United States who were brought to the U.S. by undocumented immigrants as children. They’ve come to be known as Dreamers, and under DACA, they can remain in the states as long as they renew a “consideration of deferred action” from the government every two years. The Trump administration framed its closure of the program as an impetus to Congress to pass more lasting legislation.
“The question about a DACA expriation date is a little confusing," said Brooke Mead, director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center in Pittsfield.
“The administration attempted to close the program for some people as of September 5th this fall and then with a final deadline of March 5th," sasid Mead. "However, there’s has been a court in San Franscisco that has placed a preliminary injunction on closing this program, so while we talk about DACA closing as of March 5th, there are many application renewals that can still be filed right now, it is still an open program. Although, people have lost their ability to file an initial DACA application, a first time, and DACA recipients have lost the ability to travel.”
On February 26th, the Supreme Court denied the Trump administration’s challenge to that injunction, meaning that for now, the government must continue DACA renewals. But uncertainty remains for those reliant on the program to continue the only lives they’ve ever known.
“To be brutally honest, it is very scary. It is terrifying," said Ivan, 24, a Dreamer. He’s lived in Berkshire County for 13 years. WAMC agreed not to use his full name.
“You know, you have 800,000 or so Dreamers who are out there trying to just live day by day you know, trying to survive, making a living, pay their taxes, going to their jobs — we just want to be here, man, trying to actually make America great and all these obstacles and what Trump is doing, it is very scary,” said Ivan.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, has been encouraged by the Trump Administration to operate with more freedom than during the Obama years.
“I know families who are terrified of what might happen and they don’t want to get assistance or help because they think that giving personal information and such might blow their spot and exposed to ICE or something, and that is very scary,” said Ivan.
The Berkshire Immigrant Center estimates that the county has dozens of residents relying on DACA protections, and with its future in turmoil, confusion over what will come next for those people is powerful.
“I think it just increases the fear, it also means that Berkshire employers who rely on people who have DACA are open and at risk to losing those valuable employees and their families,” said Mead.
Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, a Democrat from the 1st House district, discussed the DACA debate during a recent WAMC Congressional Corner interview.
"They didn't wake up one day and say that they were going to walk across the borders. Their parents brought them here. And they have grown up in the American culture. They have become part of the American culture, and economically they're a very important part of the American system. And I think that this notion that you're going to easily shepherd them back has been met with popular opinion that says no."