Nearly one million Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applicants, who gave the federal government their personal information when they applied, are likely in a state of unease after President Donald Trump ended the temporary deportation relief and work authorization program Tuesday.
Advocates and immigrants worry the Trump administration has inherited a trove of DACA application data from the Obama administration and can now use that information in the much feared, early morning raids against 936,394 applicants who applied for the program for the initial time, according to the latest data released in March 31, 2017. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency, the organization that oversees issues relevant to citizenship and the DACA program, ultimately approved about 800,000 people.
But USCIS officials want beneficiaries to know that they won’t use their data for nefarious reasons unless there is reason to do so.
“Information provided in a DACA request is protected from disclosure to ICE and CBP for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings unless the requestor meets the criteria for the issuance of a Notice To Appear or a referral to ICE under the criteria set forth in USCIS’ Notice to Appear guidance,” a USCIS spokesperson told ThinkProgress in an email on Tuesday.
“Individuals whose cases are deferred pursuant to DACA will not be referred to ICE,” the USCIS spokesperson explained. “The information may be shared with national security and law enforcement agencies, including ICE and CBP, for purposes other than removal, including for assistance in the consideration of DACA, to identify or prevent fraudulent claims, for national security purposes, or for the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense. The above information sharing policy covers family members and guardians, in addition to the requestor.”
The USCIS spokesperson added that the policy could be changed at any time without notice. But the spokesperson also did not respond to questions about when the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency can access to DACA personal information.
The Trump administration said Tuesday it would gradually sunset the Obama-era DACA initiative which has granted temporary deportation relief and work authorization to the 787,580 people brought to the country before the age of 16 and have fulfilled a number of other criteria to be approved for their application process.
Officials of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees all immigration matters related to DACA as well as removal operations through various arms, in a press release said the agency would cease accepting new applications and urged people whose DACA status expire before March 2018 to apply for a one-time, two-year renewal to extend their protection. Although Attorney General Jeff Sessions made clear the White House would rely on Congress to find a federal fix, the president took to Twitter Tuesday evening to say he would revisit DACA if Congress fails to pass a law by March 2018.
But the fact that the Trump administration has information on DACA applicants that go back all the way to their initial date of entry is a consideration that has kept many up in the middle of the night, worried that either they or their family members could be taken. There’s precedence for the level of anxiety that beneficiaries feel about information sharing between USCIS and ICE. After all, the Trump administration deported 43 DACA recipients in the first two months Trump’s presidency, according to DHS data obtained by USA Today in April, a spike from the previous administration’s average of seven DACA deportations per month.
“When President Obama announced DACA in 2012, he made it clear that it was not a permanent protection,” Cecilia Muñoz, vice-president of policy and technology at the New America think tank and the former director of then-President Barack Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, told The Guardian. “We offered as much assurance to people as we could – telling them that we would never use the data on our watch – but we couldn’t assure them about what future administrations would do with it.”
While President Trump has said he would treat so-called DREAMers with heart, his words have not matched the actions of his administration. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have seemingly and indiscriminately cracked down hard on enforcement and leveled the priority enforcement field to include all undocumented immigrants. During a call with reporters Tuesday on the rescission of the DACA initiative, ICE officials said DACA recipients weren’t a priority on the list of enforcement targets, but they would not clarify whether beneficiaries would be protected from deportation entirely.
Fear of disclosing personal information of undocumented immigrants on application forms has made its way into other topic areas. In California, a generally progressive state, State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D) withdrew a plan to grant health care to undocumented immigrants out of concern that their personal information would be used against them.