(Washington, DC) – US President Donald Trump’s threatened repeal of a program protecting from deportation immigrants who arrived in the United States as children would harm hundreds of thousands of people with strong ties to the US, Human Rights Watch said today.
Based on media reports, Trump would protect the “Dreamers,” those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in exchange for congressional support for the RAISE Act, which would drastically reduce legal immigration to the US, as well as increased funding for the border wall and detention centers.
“Trump’s repeal of DACA would expose hundreds of thousands of people to deportation by a cruel and unjust immigration system that fails to take into account their deep ties to the US,” said Jasmine L. Tyler, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Using the ‘Dreamers’ as political pawns for drastic cuts in legal immigration and increased detention undercuts Trump’s promise to treat them ‘with heart.’”
The Obama administration created the DACA program in 2012, in response to repeated failures by Congress to create a permanent path to legal status for people who came to the US as children. Many have lived in the US almost their entire lives, have gone to school here, and have US citizen spouses and children.
Typically, the US is the only country they consider home. Over 750,000 people have received DACA status and an estimated 1.1 million are eligible.
The DACA program has had a tremendous impact on the lives of its recipients and their communities, enabling thousands of them to pursue education and careers and contribute billions of dollars to the US economy, Human Rights Watch said.
The US public overwhelmingly supports allowing immigrants who came to the US as children to remain in the country. About three-quarters of Trump voters support allowing them to remain in the US; almost half of Trump supporters say they should be able to gain US citizenship.
Several bipartisan legislative proposals in Congress aim to protect DACA recipients, either by maintaining the program or creating a full path to citizenship. Trump has already stated he would veto a proposed DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill that has been reintroduced repeatedly over more than a decade to protect this vulnerable population.
The current US immigration system makes it extremely difficult – and often impossible – for DACA recipients and other unauthorized immigrants to gain permanent legal status in the US, even when they have immediate family who are US citizens, other deep community ties, and years of residence in the US, and have made significant contributions to local economies.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented the devastating impact of the immigration system on families and communities.
The proposed RAISE Act would halve the number of people entering the US as legal immigrants each year by eliminating many categories of family-based immigration and by capping the refugee program at 50,000 a year.
It would also create a point system that prioritizes applicants with high levels of education, English-language fluency, and high salary offers, without increasing overall the number of visas available for employer-sponsored immigrants.
The US immigration system already detains 41,000 people a day, a record high.
People in detention often experience abusive conditions, including sexual assault, severely inadequate medical care, and limited access to attorneys.
“President Trump should be trying to end the injustices of the US immigration system instead of adding to them by expelling the ‘Dreamers,’” Tyler said. “Congress should promptly enact legislation that would bring security to the lives of these immigrant youth.”