Updated at 4:50 p.m. Tuesday — Immigration lawyers in St. Louis are studying a Trump administration decision to end the Obama-era DACA program that permits some unauthorized immigrants to remain in the United States.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the administration will phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in six months. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials said they are processing renewal requests for DACA recipients whose benefits expire between now and March 5.
Since 2012, nearly 800,000 immigrants have registered under the program, which gives them permission to work, attend school or obtain a driver’s license.
More than 3,000 people in Missouri were allowed to stay in the country through the DACA program, according to ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman. The program grants temporary relief to young adults who were brought to the United States as young children.
In a statement, Mittman said young adults “used their DACA status to give back to our country in innumerable ways: they are our doctors, soldiers and students. Our neighbors, family and friends. They contribute to our economy and our communities.”
Among those wary of the administration's decision is 23-year-old Brayan Mejia. It means he might not be able to renew his work permit in two years.
Mejia, crossed the U.S.-Mexico border 12 years ago with his parents and younger siblings. They left Guadalajara for a better life in the United States.
During his senior year in high school Mejia applied applied for permission to stay under the DACA program. President Barack Obama's decision to implement DACA, he said, "was perfect timing" because it allowed him to go to continue his education at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.
"Without it I wouldn’t have been able to go to college and I would be in a very different situation right now,” said Mejia, now a human resources manager in Illinois.
The ACLU is encouraging the state’s U.S. senators and representatives to support the 2017 DREAM Act, legislation that would enshrine DACA protections into law.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said it would make no sense to deport young people who arrived in the United States through no fault of their own and have never known another country.
"Over 90 percent of them are in school or working and many have proudly served our country in uniform," McCaskill said in a statement.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, a sponsor of the DREAM Act, said the announcement by Sessions was “cold, harsh, threatening, and showed little respect, let alone love,” for DACA recipients. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, also a Democrat from Illinois, said the administration's decision a "gut-wrenching betrayal of American values" that leaves people vulnerable to deportation.
Durbin said Congress will have to act quickly to prevent them from harm.
“Starting this countdown clock will require Congress to act fast to stop rolling mass deportations of hundreds of thousands of young people — students, teachers, doctors, engineers, first responders, service members, and more,” Durbin said in a statement. “Families will be torn apart and America will lose many of our best and brightest unless Republicans join with Democrats to right this wrong immediately.”
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, said the way in which DACA was created left its recipients in legal limbo. He also said the nation needs to enhance border security.
But Blunt agreed that Congress needs to address the plight of the 800,000 young people.
"The young people in the DACA program need a permanent, commonsense solution that will allow them to continue working and going to school in the only country that many of them have ever known," Blunt said in a statement.
University of Missouri officials say President Donald Trump's decision to wind down the program creates uncertainty for the more than 35 students in the university system.
DACA recipients in the St. Louis region are angry about the decision and fear for their futures, said Jessica Mayo, an immigration attorney for the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project.
“People who have DACA or all immigrants in general should be seeing an attorney to see if they have options beyond DACA and to figure out how they can plan for the potential enforcement actions that might come,” Mayo said.
Immigrant advocates will meet Thursday at Kingdom House, where lawyers will advise DACA recipients of their rights, among them the rights to remain silent and to speak with an attorney.
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