American dream fades for child immigrants under Trump

2017-08-31 09:44
A woman holds up a signs in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. (Jacquelyn Martin, AP, File)

A woman holds up a signs in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. (Jacquelyn Martin, AP, File)

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New York - Aside from a slight Spanish accent, there is little to separate Juan Escalante from many people who were born and bred in the US. The chinos, Ray Ban sunglasses and love of coffee are as all-American as the next man.

Escalante, however, was brought to the US by his Venezuelan parents at age 11. He was undocumented, but won a modicum of security under a 2012 government deal to not deport young arrivals like Escalante and his two younger brothers.

That temporary reprieve - called 'Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals' (DACA) - has helped 800 000 younger, undocumented immigrants get a legal status, work permits and driving licences, but is now in the crosshairs of US President Donald Trump's administration.

"I feel American; all I'm missing is a piece of paper that validates that my loyalties lie with this country," said Escalante, now 28 and a rights campaigner from Tallahassee, Florida.

"At the end of the day, when we talk about the DACA programme, we're talking about people who have grown up in the United States who want to contribute and want to continue to make it their home."

Tough immigration orders

After months of delays, Trump - a Republican - is expected to decide within days on the fate of DACA recipients - often called "dreamers" - as he faces pressure to come good on hard-line campaign pledges and meet a looming deadline.

A group of Republican state lawmakers, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, has threatened to mount a legal challenge to DACA unless the government rescinds the scheme and stops issuing work permits by September 5.

Trump has signed tough immigration orders, such as banning travellers from six mostly-Muslim countries, but he has wavered on his plans for DACA. During the 2016 election campaign, he branded it an "illegal amnesty".

Since entering office in January, the billionaire has praised the "incredible kids", who continue to apply for, and receive, two-year, renewable work permits from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to the dismay of immigration hard-liners.

Trump's wavering highlights how dreamers are, in many ways, poster children for undocumented immigrants - often far removed from the "bad hombres" that he promised to kick out during the campaign.

A study by Tom Wong, a scholar at the University of California, San Diego, backed by left-leaning groups, such as the Center for American Progress, showed that DACA helps the US economy as well as the scheme's recipients.

Some 97% of dreamers are currently employed or in school. Permission to work has helped many climb the career ladder, meaning average pay rises of 69% and, thus, more tax revenue filling government coffers.

Dreamers pay rent and buy cars and laptops.

DACA critics

The survey of 3 063 recipients found that 16% bought houses and 5% launched businesses; overall they will add $460bn to the US economy over the next decade, Wong said.

At least 72% of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ DACA beneficiaries, meaning that any decision to stop renewing work permits would force big corporations to spend time and money recruiting new talent, he added.

Americans are sympathetic to children who were brought to the US by their parents, often via risky land routes through deserts and ganglands.

Three-quarters hail from Mexico; the average age at entry was 6-and-a-half years old. An opinion poll by Morning Consult in April found that 78% of voters wanted to let dreamers stay in the US; 56% expressed support for eventual citizenship. Only 14% of respondents said they should be sent packing.

DACA has its critics - not least those who accuse former President Barack Obama of acting unconstitutionally five years ago when he carved out a waiver for a whole category of people who had entered America illegally.

"While immigration always benefits immigrants - they wouldn't come otherwise - it can have adverse consequences for others in our society," said Dave Ray, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"It affects people's jobs, their wages, essential public institutions, and the allocation of scarce public resources. Significant numbers of undocumented minors affects the schools they attend, which are almost always in districts where the schools are already struggling."

Steven Camarota, from the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies, argued in the National Review that DACA mostly hurts blue-collar Americans.


Dreamers can pass background checks, meaning more competition for jobs such as security guards, truckers and delivery van drivers.

Dreamers are a "less sympathetic group" than immigration reformers make out, he added - claiming that many speak English poorly, are well-acquainted with their home countries, and in some cases, have ties with criminal gangs.

Trump's move on DACA comes amid heightened tensions over race and immigration following a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his decision to pardon a former sheriff who flouted an order to stop racially profiling Latinos.

The president has several options. He could order the DHS to stop issuing new DACA work permits immediately, or at a future date.

Or the administration could continue issuing the permits, triggering the Republican legal challenge, and then choose not to defend the measure in court.

Alternatively, he can use DACA as a bargaining chip to pressure Democrats into backing his plans for immigration, the budget, and raising the debt ceiling. Human Rights Watch has warned that dreamers are now "pawns" in a political slugfest.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  us  |  migrants

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