Young US immigrants mobilize effort to avoid deportation
PHOENIX, AZ — President Donald Trump is facing increasing pressure from CEOs, Roman Catholic bishops, celebrities and a national mobilization effort as he weighs eliminating an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation.
The last-ditch effort has taken on greater urgency in recent days amid reports that the White House may end the program as soon as Friday.
Immigrant groups have been staging daily protests in the scorching Phoenix heat, mobilizing people with phone banks in California, and demonstrating outside House Speaker Paul Ryan’s church and office in recent days.
Roman Catholic archbishops around the country have been sending letters urging the president to maintain the program. The CEOs of Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Starbucks and others also joined the effort, saying the economy will take a hit if the program is eliminated.
Immigrants are bracing for the prospect of losing their jobs as their work permits end and possible deportation if the president does away with the program.
Eli Oh of San Jose, California, said he was among the first to apply for the program after working as a waiter under the table to pay for his nursing degree.
Oh, 30, has lived in the United States for nearly two decades since his Korean parents overstayed their visa. He works as a rapid response nurse in Northern California, where he responds to hospital emergencies, and fears he’ll be unemployed if his work permit goes away.
“I went from saving lives at a hospital and delivering health care, and now I am like, I might have to drive Uber to pay rent,” he said.
President Barack Obama in 2012 created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has allowed nearly 800,000 immigrants brought to the country illegally as children to remain in the U.S. and legally work.
Trump railed against the Obama program on the campaign trail, calling it illegal “amnesty.” He later said it’s been one of the most difficult issues he’s dealt with.
Republican officials from 10 states have threatened to bring a lawsuit to stop the program, giving the Trump administration a Sept. 5 deadline to act.
To qualify, immigrants must have no criminal records and proof that they were brought to the U.S. before they reached age 16. Their work permits and protection from deportation must be renewed every two years.
The White House insists the president has yet to make a final decision on the issue, though advocates on both sides of the debate expect him to announce he will begin phasing out the program as soon as Friday.
Applying for the program costs nearly $500, and most applicants hire attorneys to help them navigate the complicated process. It takes several weeks or months for the government to review applications.
The issue is especially prominent in California, home to one of every four people covered by the program. In Los Angeles, immigrant advocates have planned a week of scripted phone calls, demonstrations and meetings with lawmakers. The efforts and others next week are aimed at putting pressure on elected officials and the public to save the program.
In Arizona, a coalition of immigrant rights groups set up a protest camp this week in front of Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices near downtown Phoenix in the midst of a heat advisory and temperatures of nearly 110 degrees.
Their daily protests come amid immigrant anger over Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, the former Phoenix-area sheriff found by a federal judge to have racially profiled Latinos with his immigration raids. Arpaio was convicted this year of misdemeanor contempt of court for violating a judge’s orders to stop the immigration patrols.
“We are calling on people of conscience that if you believe that this is an injustice, there’s no room to stay silent. Silence allows for injustices to happen,” Reyna Montoya told reporters Monday. Montoya said she was brought to Arizona as a teenager after her family fled political violence in Mexico.
In Wisconsin, the pressure extends specifically to Ryan, who has said previously he supports young immigrants. In a radio interview Friday, Ryan urged Trump to keep the program.
“These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home,” he said.
The immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera staged a protest outside of Ryan’s Roman Catholic church in Wisconsin on August 20. They planned a hunger strike starting Friday in front of his Milwaukee office and a march on Tuesday.
Ilse Merlin, of Racine, Wisconsin, said she was prepping for the worst by staying informed and active within the immigrant rights movement.
“I’m not scared because I have faith that my God is going to provide and he’s going to protect. That might not sound very reasonable I guess to people that don’t have faith, but for me I think it’s enough,” Merlin said.
Merlin, 22, was brought to Wisconsin as a 5-year-old and has had protection from the program since it began. She said it changed her life by allowing her to get a job, which she used to pay for college. She works as a children and youth director at her church and hopes to finish a bachelor’s degree to become a teacher.
Others lending support for the program include celebrities like Shonda Rhimes, the television mogul, and actress America Ferrera, who took to Twitter to lend their support.
Dozens of CEOs and executives who wrote a letter Thursday urging the program to be spared so its beneficiaries, known as Dreamers, are allowed to stay in the U.S.
“Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs,” the letter said.