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City officials and immigrant rights groups plot how to move forward after DACA

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San Francisco’s Immigrant Rights Commission met with undocumented residents and immigrant rights groups on Sept. 11 to discuss their struggles as well as how best to protect DACA recipients now that the Trump administration has announced the end the program with a six-month deferral.

“We are on a ticking timeline right now,” said Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. Kinoshita told commissioners that due to the president’s decision, her and other immigration organizations must immediately attempt to re-register all eligible DACA recipients.

“So one of the things we’re having DACA recipients do in the meantime is to screen for other immigration options that may already be available to them,” she said. “We’re encouraging them to understand that their constitutional rights do not change and they should know what those rights are as well as practice exercising those rights if they encounter ICE after they no longer have protection from deportation.”

Prior to DACA, current recipients of the program had struggled, like other undocumented immigrants, with fear of deportation.

“Six years ago, undocumented youth … stood up and said, ‘We want some reprieve and we want some breathing room,’ from an increasingly expanding deportation machine,” said Hong Mei Pang, immigration program manager for Chinese for Affirmative Action. “Almost 3 million people were deported under the Obama Administration, a record number of people, and we have really wanted to [be] reunited and stay with our families.”

Kinoshita said that there is a lot of confusion, both from undocumented individuals “and from service providers on whether or not people should move [and] whether or not they should be traveling outside the country or returning to the country right now.”

According to Ana Herrera, the managing immigration attorney of Dolores Street Community Services (an organization that provides services to both low-income people and immigrants), the group is trying to find “anyone who is eligible for [DACA] renewal by Oct. 5 and have them apply with one of our agencies and help them with the fees if they are unable provide them.”

Mayra Jaimes, the program coordinator for the fellowship program DreamSF, introduced herself as “one of the [800,000] DACA beneficiaries, however, I am not one of the 154,000 eligible to renew within the one-month window which ends Oct. 5, which means by March 19, my work permit will expire. And these are really big numbers, but they pale in comparison to the 10 million undocumented immigrants who never qualified for DACA. My parents and my extended family are part of that.”

‘Deserving’ and ‘Undeserving’ immigrants

Jaimes addressed the divide that has arisen between DACA recipients and other undocumented people.

“I began to reflect on the unspoken political division in my family. A narrative between them and myself, of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving,’” said Jaimes, who comes from a mixed-status family—her three younger siblings being U.S. citizens. “I understood that DACA was a ‘privilege,’ but I also knew that it wasn’t enough because my parents were not afforded the same privilege.”

When the Trump administration ended the program, she received calls from undocumented family members reassuring her that DACA will be fixed and that she will receive help.

“And I thought to myself, ‘Why aren’t you including yourself in these wishes and thoughts?’” she said. “Because, there is a clear division, an unspoken political division within all of our families, all DACA recipients.”

On Sept. 18 during a televised morning press conference, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for the immediate passing of the DREAM Act, but she was interrupted by demonstrators, who chanted “All of us or none of us.”

Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) met with President Trump and supposedly agreed to legislation that would protect DREAMers after the DACA program ends. The agreement, however, also included unspecified plans that would bolster security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

For Jaimes and others like her this is sort of deal is a nonstarter. Jaimes has asked the SF Immigrant Affairs body to stop using the word DREAMer altogether, arguing that “it pits us against our own family members and it infantilizes us and it disempowers us.”

Instead of the image of a DREAMer, a youthful undocumented individual, Jaimes prefers one solid, uniting image of her as “one of 11 million people who deserve to live, work, and thrive in the U.S. just like everyone else, regardless of immigration status.”

Story by: Aaron Levy-Wolins