On-campus panel discusses the past, present, future of DACA and Dreamers

Photo courtesy of Cheska Mae Perez.

By Boris Zyumbyulev || Staff Writer

“We can’t survive without illegal immigration, we can’t afford it.” This is what immigration attorney Wendy Chan said at the “DACA and Dreamers” Panel, held on Wednesday evening in Bonchek College House. Joining her at the panel were Professor Stephanie McNulty of the Government Department, Professor Laura Shelton of the History Department, and Sanjee Soliman ‘17, an alumna and Dreamer. Moderating the event was Cheska Mae Perez ‘21, student and Dreamer. Sponsors of the event were Mi Gente Latina, College Democrats, Alice Drum Women’s Center, and Sisters.

The focus of the panel was, of course, DACA and the government action, or inaction, towards it. DACA is an executive action taken by President Barack Obama, which protects undocumented immigrants who have entered the US before the age of 16 from deportation. Following a background check for eligibility, these immigrants, commonly called Dreamers, are given two-year permits with which they are able to both work and study in the US. According to numbers cited during the panel, the program has protected around 800,000 people. However, on September 5, President Trump moved to end DACA, as he had said he would do during the campaign. The Department of National Security set the date of March 5, after which permits will start expiring.

So far 6 seperate bills have been discussed in the House and in the Senate; however, only one seems to have bipartisan support. The bill was introduced by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as the Dream Act of 2017. Even so, the Act is a point of contention between the two parties, especially in the more polarized House. To a large extent, immigration and Dreamers blocked the government budget and led to the government shutdown of January 20 to January 22.

The panel held at Franklin & Marshall discussed the impact of the ending of DACA, the future of Dreamers, and their stories. According to Attorney Wendy Chan, Chan and Associates, which is based in Lancaster, PA, are largely affecting the undocumented dreamers both mentally and physically. Being unable to apply for a permit inhibits those people from re-applying for driver’s licenses and forces them to work under the table. That is, regardless of the fact that they still pay federal taxes and contribute billions in government revenue, without being eligible for any social care. Additionally, Dreamers face the threat of deportation or detention in a detention center. A significant portion of the associated stress and fear with the ending of DACA comes from the fact that a lot of people do not know what to expect. This affects the Dreamers themselves, as well as their families and friends.

Cheska Mae Perez noted during the panel how according to a survey conducted by the Washington Post, 86% of Americans support DACA. The question then became why is the administration ending the program. To that Wendy Chan added that Republicans are interested in being harder on immigration, through some form of Border Security. However, Professor Shelton observed that between 1986 and 2004, the budget enforcing that immigration security has increased by 119% across both political parties. The general trend, according to Professor Shelton, is that immigration mostly depends on the economic and political circumstances in the countries where those movements of people are happening. As such, enforcement has generally been observed to be ineffective in affecting immigration rates.

Professor McNulty joined this discussion to explain some of the political realities in Washington. The most crucial detail is that few in Congress, where is the biggest standstill between the political parties and hardline factions, want to get through a clean Dream bill. In other words, House members want to pass a minibus package with several additional changes to legislation together with Dreamers (if at all).

In reference to an interview by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said he wanted to model the Dreamers program by the Immigration Act of 1924, Professor Shelton explained what can be expected from that statement. The Immigration Act of 1924 worked on the principle of quotas by country, as each quantity of immigrants allowed depended on certain characteristics. By design, the Act was intended to discriminate based on religion, culture, nationality, race. The immigration law was changed in 1965 to a less discriminatory one, which scrapped the quotas by nation, but it preserved the cap to accepting immigrants. In other words, the Attorney General bringing up that model might indicate the possibility that future Dreamers will be affected by their nationality, race, religion, or any characteristic the Trump administration decides.

In the second part of the discussion, Professor McNulty discussed the injunction to the DACA appeal by a California Federal Judge. The injunction allowed Dreamers looking for renewing their permits to do so in the period between October and now. However, as the Professor noted, since no new applications are processed by the program, the injunction only extends the window for current DACA beneficiaries, which does not put as much pressure on Congress for a legislative decision.

Just towards the end of the panel, Professor Shelton pointed out the “weird” aspects of the current political and social climate. According to her, historically there’s a push-back by large scale employers whenever politicians get hard on immigration. In the words of Wendy Chan, “these people are feeding us”. However, politicians seems to not feel the push-back. Additionally, social and civil unrest and opposition also seems to have little effect. To Professor Shelton, the discussion of immigration this time around, specifically the treatment of Dreamers, is more a discussion of civil rights, and not border security or documenting people properly.

The last item discussed by the panel was the existence of Detention Centers and how they are used. In contrast to the Obama administration, which deported as much people annually as did the Trump administration in 2017, the usage of Detention centers is much higher now. Those centers are structured like prisons, and they exists for the enforced housing of undocumented immigrants; however, they have quota systems, which they aim to fulfil. In other words, those centers are packed at all times. In some cases, entire families are put into Detention, together with 9 month old infants and children. 

The main conclusion of the discussion on DACA and Dreamers was championed by both Dreamers on the panel, Cheska Mae Perez and Sanjee Soliman. Their message was that Dreamers are everyday normal people, and that the DACA program is essential to a lot of people from all over the world. And even if moving forward can seem more and more frustrating, the most important thing now is to call Congress and tell them that one is in support of the Dream Act.

Sophomore Boris Zyumbyulev is a staff writer. His email is bzyumbyu@fandm.edu.

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