WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump campaigned on the promise he would end a program that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to remain in the U.S., but in an interview less than a week after taking the oath of office he said those benefitting from the program “shouldn’t be very worried.”
Even after his statement experts still predict that the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, will come to an end soon, and possibly with little notice.
“He can easily terminate or cancel the program,” said Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, “It is a vulnerable program.”
For people who have been approved, there is renewed worry that they will once again be vulnerable to deportation.
“There has been an increase in the fear and the worry to families who have been here and are undocumented,” said Kinoshita.
Rommel Sandino, lead organizer at the advocacy group CASA de Maryland, has seen fewer first-time applicants since the election and attributes the drop to applicants concerned with registering their names with the government.
“We don’t know what the future of DACA is,” said Sandino. CASA de Maryland has organized “know your rights workshops” to educate the immigrant community on their constitutional rights.
DACA began with an executive order during the Obama administration. It allows those brought to the U.S. by their parents to apply for a two-year renewable permit that grants them deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. While it is not a path to citizenship it has been a reprieve for nearly 800,000 hopeful Americans nationwide.
Federal customs officials approved DACA status for more that 9,000 Maryland residents since the program began in 2012, according to statistics from the Citizenship and Immigration Services. The largest numbers of DACA recipients in the state came from El Salvador, followed by Mexico, Guatemala and South Korea.
If Trump ends the program it could alter the way local law enforcement interacts with immigrant communities.
Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins was an early critic the Obama administration’s immigration policy, including DACA. He has testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on the matter, and believes that it has made it more difficult for him to do his job.
“It inhibits law enforcement enforcing the law,” Jenkins said Thursday. “These people who come here as unaccompanied minors get a free pass.”
Jenkins added that DACA recipients have gone on to join gangs and commit crime in the Frederick area, although he could not point to a specific case.
Some jurisdictions in Maryland have already stated their intention to protect certain immigrants from deportation while avoiding the label of “sanctuary city.” Both Prince George’s and Montgomery counties officials have declared they will not honor an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer order without demonstration of probable cause, and Baltimore City has had a statute in place since 2012 that prohibits police from participating in civil immigration activities.
But in Frederick County, officials have increased cooperation with ICE under the 287(g) program, which trains and designates local law enforcement to perform federal immigration law enforcement functions.
Sandino says the possibility local law enforcement will be increasingly tasked with enforcing the Trump administration’s immigration policy could lead to a tense relationship between immigrants and the police departments.
“If local law enforcement start to enforce federal immigration laws, we will start to see people fight back,” said Sandino.
But Jenkins welcomes the opportunity and looks forward to no longer being limited by DACA a policy he said was “backdoor amnesty” during his congressional testimony.
“We are going to go back to enforcing the laws as written,” said Jenkins.