Late this week, in the face of widespread condemnation of the Trump administration’s revocation of the DACA program, the president sought to reassure the more than 800,000 Dreamers in the country, telling them not to worry about their status during the six months that he has given Congress to come up with legislation to resolve their situation.
In a tweet—and one urged by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—Trump asserted, “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about—No action!”
But judging by his administration’s actions over the last eight months, they may have reason to worry.
On February 5, just a little over two weeks after Trump’s swearing-in as president, Daniel Ramirez Medina was arrested at his family home in suburban Seattle by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. During a morning raid at his home that targeted his father, the 23-year-old explained that he was in the U.S., where he first came at the age of 7, under the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but he was still taken to a processing center. When he said that he had a work permit, one ICE agent responded, “It doesn’t matter because you weren’t born in this country.”
Ramirez doesn’t have a criminal record, but ICE agents suspected that he was a street gang member, noting a tattoo on his arm, which Ramirez says is just the name of his hometown in Mexico. Even so, he alleged, immigration agents forged a confession to justify their gang suspicions.
The arrest shocked immigration advocates because it represented a sharp reversal of Obama administration policy, under which the Department of Homeland Security assured DACA applicants that they would not face removal proceedings unless they had committed a crime or represented a national security threat. According to a lawsuit later filed by Ramirez against DHS, the federal government had been living up to that promise and Ramirez’s lawyers stated that they were “not aware of any DACA beneficiary being subject to removal proceedings unless they had violated the criteria for receiving DACA by committing a crime.”
Ramirez was released on bail after spending six weeks in federal detention, but his status remains unclear. In a recent hearing, the government “conceded that he was not a threat to public safety,” his lawyer Mark Rosenbaum tells Fast Company.
The case they brought against DHS raises the issue at the heart of most Dreamers’ fears: They relied on the word of the government that that their status “would not be utilized in any law enforcement case.” Anecdotally, Rosenbaum has heard of similar cases in which Dreamers were arrested despite their law-abiding status.
Indeed, since Ramirez’s arrest, other Dreamers have been targeted, including Daniela Vargas of Mississippi, who says she was arrested after speaking at a news conference about immigration reform. After two weeks in detention, she was released. “Daniela’s case is representative of the mean-spirited and misguided immigration policy of this administration,” her attorney, Michelle Lapointe, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Los Angeles Times.
DACA revocations grew by 25% in the first three months of Trump’s presidency compared with the same period last year, and at least 43 people who once had DACA status have been deported on his watch, according to data provided by ICE to Vice News in May.
Meanwhile, immigration arrests in total surged nearly 40% from 2016 in the first six months of this year, and arrests of noncriminal immigrants more than doubled, according to ICE statistics. But the same period also marked a decline in the number of immigrants actually deported: From January to June, ICE removed 105,178 undocumented immigrants from the country, of which 42%, or 43,808, were noncriminal. In 2016 during the same time period, 121,170 undocumented immigrants were deported, 42% of whom were noncriminal.
In a statement Thursday to Vice, an ICE spokesperson said that “absent any law enforcement interests, the department will generally not take actions to remove active DACA beneficiaries.” The agency’s priority targets, ICE said, are “criminal aliens, illegal reentrants (in other words, persons who have been previously removed and illegally reentered the country), and those persons with outstanding orders of removal.”
What Happens With The Data?
This week, immigration advocates have also raised concerns that ICE could access all of the personal data submitted by Dreamers as part of the DACA process, despite vows that such information would not be shared except in cases of national security and public safety. In Ramirez’s lawsuit, he argued that the government’s assurance that their information would not be used for enforcement purposes encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to apply for DACA.
And over 15 state attorneys general share that concern. On Wednesday they filed their own lawsuit, arguing that the revocation of DACA violates the Fifth Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act, which “prohibits federal agency action that is arbitrary, unconstitutional, and contrary to statute.” They also asked a judge to “bar the government from using DACA recipients’ information, which they submitted to the government voluntarily, to deport them if the program is revoked,” reports the Washington Post.
Several former employees at U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS)—the agency that keeps the personal details of both DACA recipients and applicants—also expressed their concerns about the sharing of data, noting that the Trump administration had loosened restrictions on immigration enforcement.
Soon after the DACA program was cancelled, Jeh Johnson, a former secretary of DHS under Obama, asserted in a public letter that there was a wall blocking off the personal data of personal Dreamers from ICE. And any data requests from ICE had to involve a legitimate immigration enforcement action—crime, immigration fraud, national security threat—and could not simply be blanket requests for, say, the personal information of all the DACA recipients in Arizona.
A spokesperson for DHS did not return a request for comment.