DACA freeze stirs rage, fear across nation
Dozens of people from the Pittsburgh region gathered Tuesday in Washington, D.C., with other demonstrators to protest the Trump administration's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
Among them was Ana Alberto, 23.
"We really care about DACA, because without DACA, our dreams are gone," said Alberto of Pittsburgh.
She arrived in the United States from Mexico when she was 10, she said. Because of DACA, she was able to go to school, get a driver's license and get a job at a hair salon. She's been able to build up credit and work toward buying a home.
Before Tuesday's announcement that the program would end, she wasn't afraid — of driving, of going out, of living her life, of being deported.
"But now that this is over, I'm afraid. I'm afraid and I'm sad and I'm upset," Alberto said.
Alberto said she still has hope that Congress will support DACA recipients as the program is "phased out" over the next six months and lawmakers are tasked with finding a new way to help young immigrants stay in the country.
As of Tuesday, the government will no longer process new applications for DACA status. Recipients may continue to apply to renew existing DACA status during this six-month period. All DACA benefits are provided on a two-year basis, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, so any active DACA status will remain active until expiration.
The program started in 2012 under the Obama administration. Since then, about 800,000 young immigrants have benefited from the program. According to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, Pennsylvania is home to 5,889 DACA recipients.
Several local organizations will demonstrate at the offices of Republican Congressmen Keith Rothfus and Tim Murphy on Wednesday to urge them to work with other members of Congress to support DACA recipients. Rallies are planned at 16 congressional offices across Pennsylvania.
Rothfus' office issued a statement Tuesday, taking the position that immigration reform "begins with securing our borders and establishing a functioning entry and exit system," which includes addressing the status of individuals who arrived here as children.
"President Obama himself asserted that he did not have the authority to change our immigration laws unilaterally, but then illegally implemented DACA anyway in an election year ploy to rally his base," the statement said. "The Trump administration's action to end this unconstitutional program restores the rule of law and allows Congress to reclaim its constitutional authority to set immigration policy."
In order to qualify for DACA status, an individual must have arrived in the United States before age 16 and resided in the country since 2007, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
The program allows undocumented individuals who are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a General Educational Development (GED) certificate or who are honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard or armed forces to remain in the country.
The program does not provide a path to citizenship. But it does allow DACA recipients to attend school, hold a job and obtain a driver's license, for example.
"Preventing them from doing that doesn't serve anybody," said Julian Asenjo, executive director of Casa San Jose, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that supports Latino immigrants. "We're going to do everything possible to support these vetted, committed members of our community."
Gov. Tom Wolf said the scope of the potential impact of Tuesday's announcement is unclear. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement that he will review the Trump administration's directive and take legal action if the federal government breaks the law as the program is ended.
Jamie Martines and Natsha Lindstrom are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach Martines at email@example.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines, and Lindstrom at firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-380-8514 or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.