'Dreamers' safe for now — but still uneasy about the future

The Trump administration's announcement that so-called "Dreamers" who were brought into the country illegally as children won't lose their protection from deportation or their ability to work — at least for now — has been met with mixed emotions and skepticism by the local immigrant community.

The Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals will "remain in effect," according to memorandums issued Thursday by Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly. No DACA work permits will be terminated before their expiration dates, the department said, and current recipients can apply for renewal.

"It's kind of a relief because my DACA expires next spring, so it was a huge concern, not knowing what was going to happen," said Michel Mora, 18, of Chicago, a rising sophomore at Knox College. She was brought to the United States when she was 5.

"But my future is still in their hands and undecided," she said. "Which is scary. (Donald Trump) can change his mind whenever he wants."

While Trump has expressed sympathy during his presidency for immigrants who came as children, some DACA recipients still fear he'll eliminate the program, as he promised during his campaign.

The department made the announcement quietly on Thursday night, at the bottom of a fact sheet addressing a different but similar program, which was posted to its website.

White House officials then told the New York Times on Friday that Trump has yet to make a long-term decision regarding DACA.

The program applies to immigrants who have been in the U.S. since 2007, were under age 16 when they arrived and were under 31 as of 2012. Recipients are not guaranteed a path to citizenship or legal residency, and must reapply every two years.

Since 2012, the program has protected more than 770,000 young immigrants from deportation, including 41,800 people in Illinois. Illinois has the nation's fourth-largest population of DACA recipients and the highest share in the Midwest.

Trump vowed during his presidential campaign to terminate the program, which he said Barack Obama created as an illegal act of amnesty. But deporting the Dreamers poses a political risk, as they're viewed sympathetically by many Americans who realize the immigrants were young children when they entered the country.

Trump has hinted he would not try to deport DACA recipients. In an Associated Press interview in April, he said his administration is "not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals" and that "the Dreamers should rest easy."

Still, immigration activists worry the administration might eliminate the program. Thursday's announcement came as the department was formally ending a similar Obama-era program designed to shield from deportation the immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents.

That program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was never implemented, as it was blocked by a federal judge in Texas after 26 states sued. The Supreme Court tied 4-4 on a challenge to that ruling, and Kelly on Thursday rescinded the program, saying it no longer has a "credible path forward" in court.

Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center, said DAPA's defeat makes the decision regarding the Dreamers "bittersweet."

"They're relieved that they have temporary status, but they worry about their parents and other family members who don't have access to relief and who the administration is actively targeting," she said.

Trump's vows since taking office to crack down on those living in the U.S. illegally further concerns her. While DACA remains in effect, she continues to advise those applying for the first time that there are risks — including that information collected by the program could ultimately be used to find and deport them.

"So we're still providing legal counsel and representation to individuals seeking DACA, explaining the pros and cons," she said.

Longtime Chicago immigration attorney Kalman Resnick is also uncertain of DACA's fate. He believes the administration said it would "remain in effect" only to clarify that the program, unlike the one for immigrant parents, was at this time not being acted upon by the administration.

"I don't think this is anything but a statement of what the policy has been," he said.

The only way to preserve DACA, he said, is to ensure that most Americans continue to support it.

"That's the only reason it has not been eliminated — is that the Trump administration is concerned about the large number of Americans who support the DACA recipients, who don't want to see people brought here as children get deported," he said.



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