Without Legislative Action, Advocates Say Options Are Limited For Pittsburgh DACA Recipients

Feb 15, 2018

On Tuesday, a New York federal judge issued the second ruling to temporarily block the Trump administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program on March 5.

A similar ruling was issued in California a month prior, which the Department of Justice has asked the Supreme Court to review.

While there are roughly 800,000 people enrolled in the DACA program that would benefit from the temporary protection of the ruling, there are an estimated 3.6 million “Dreamers” in the U.S. that are still at risk if they are unable to apply for DACA. Dozens of members of the Pittsburgh community without documentation could be affected by the lack of a permanent solution.

Kristen Schneck, an immigration lawyer and partner at the Pittsburgh based law firm Fox Rothschild LLP, said that without legislation to protect them, life would become “very difficult” for Dreamers.

“Roughly every day that there isn’t a fix, 122 young people lose their DACA status,” she said. “They lose their jobs, their protection from deportation, a lot of them are unable to continue with their college education. That’s part of what would happen.”

The combined rulings ordered the Trump administration to continue processing renewals for the programs. However, neither ruling dictated that new applications would be accepted, and could allow for the administration to challenge the order.

Monica Ruiz, a community organizer with Pittsburgh non-profit Casa San Jose, echoed similar sentiments about the lack of legislation for Dreamers, saying lawmakers weren’t taking the issue seriously enough.

“I think they [legislators] are using them as tokens. And they’re not tokens, they’re human beings, and their lives are hanging in the balance because these elected officials want to play games with them,” she said.

Ruiz said she knows of an estimated 30 Pittsburgh Dreamers personally that would be “very scared” by the loss of the DACA program.

“They could be here or gone or anything based on the temperament of the President. And that’s not a way for them to live,” she said. “They own property, they have mortgages, they have car loans, they’re in college, they’re trying to live their lives. This is just an added stressor because they have no certainty of what tomorrow will bring.”

In addition to putting pressure on legislators, there are some legal options for Dreamers, according to Schneck. She said, for immigration attorneys, this fight is “business as usual” and said DACA clinics made up of immigration and non-immigration attorneys volunteering legal assistance to help DACA recipients find other potential routes to citizenship.

Some of these options include justified asylum cases or green card cases based on family, immediate relatives or marriage. However, she stated that a majority of them would not qualify for these options.

A recent ABC/Washington Post poll which found that 86 percent of Americans view the DACA program positively, making the slow Congressional process “hard to justify,” as Schneck put it.

Following the first ruling in California, Trump tweeted that the courts were “broken and unfair” for allegedly favoring the opposing argument.

A Justice Department spokesman issued a public statement following the New York ruling, stating that DACA is “an unlawful circumvention of Congress” and stated that they will “vigorously defend their decision” against the ruling.