Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus emerged from a meeting with Department of Homeland Security Sec. John Kelly with a grim message for America’s undocumented immigrants in the Trump era: Prepare for the worst.
During the hour-long meeting, Kelly warned lawmakers that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—the popular Obama-era program that has shielded nearly 800,000 young immigrants from deportation and allowed them to work legally in the only country they call home—may not survive a legal challenge brought on by Republican leaders in Texas and nine other states. Kelly also indicated the future of immigrants with Temporary Protective Status—“a form of relief extended to nationals of countries unable to handle their return because of civil strife, natural disasters and instability”—is unsure. When lawmakers confronted Kelly about the fact that he has the authority to say which immigrants should and shouldn’t be deported, the number one at DHS “pretended he didn’t have such authority.”
Further stunning lawmakers was Kelly’s admission that DACA’s future may be decided by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who, aside from Donald Trump himself, may be the most anti-immigrant official in the administration:
Kelly also told the Democratic lawmakers that he has met with Sessions to discuss DACA, though he did not provide details of their conversation. Given Sessions’ hard-line immigration stance, however, it’s unlikely the Attorney General would defend DACA on the government’s behalf.
“I asked the secretary very directly whether the administration would defend DACA and he couldn’t give me a conclusive answer,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) told the Dallas News.
“I think we have to prepare for the worst and get ready to fight mass deportation,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who was present at the meeting. Kelly “said that the future of DACA is up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, America’s leading advocate against immigration, so Kelly was basically telling us DACA is facing a death sentence. They actually want to take millions of people who are documented—with our own government—make them undocumented, and then go after them and their families. So, I fear for anybody currently with DACA or TPS.”
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to kill the DACA program on day one of his presidency, but has so far left it intact following immense pressure from immigrant rights advocates, legislators, faith leaders, the business community, and many others.
Kelly’s admission that DACA could fail in court gives the administration just the out it’s been looking for, which is why Kelly also used the meeting to paint himself as personally supportive of young immigrants, saying Congress should pass legislation to help DACA recipients. But when asked if he supported such bills—there’s the bipartisan “Bridge Act,” which would basically codify DACA—the number one at DHS said he wasn’t aware of any such legislation. “There was a combination of laughter and appalled shock in the room,” said Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-CA).
The fact is, the only immigration-related bills Donald Trump and his administration have openly supported are entirely anti-immigrant, including “Kate’s Law,” which does nothing more than endanger public safety and demonize immigrant families.
“This is a Code Red moment,” said immigrant rights leader Frank Sharry of America’s Voice. “Kelly talks as if he’s a reasonable person who is only doing his job, but he’s become the perfect pitchman for the Trump Administration’s mass deportation agenda.”
Immigrant youth leaders pledged to continue fighting for DACA, which has allowed hundreds of thousands of youth to pursue higher education, professional careers, and lift up their families and communities. Immigrant youth won DACA in 2012 following relentless organizing, activism, and pressure on elected officials on both sides of the aisle. They’re sticking to that plan.
“Today, United We Dream and the immigrant youth movement make a pledge to love and support one another as we enter into a fight for our very lives,” said Greisa Martinez. “Immigrant youth won the DACA program by fearlessly stepping up, sharing our stories and leading with love. There is deep anxiety in immigrant communities today but also a fierce determination to win because this is our home and we are here to stay.”
Your Editor Stands with Dreamers: We will not succumb