Long Island organizations work to help DREAMers after Trump DACA decision
By Megan Mcguire and Clare Ramirez-Raftree
On September 5th, 2017, the Trump administration announced it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This Obama-era executive order allowed young people – or “DREAMers” – who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents before the age of sixteen protection from deportation, as well as work authorization.
The program went into effect in 2012, giving recipients who passed backgrounds and paid fees, deferrals from deportation as well as work permits- two allowances that had major impacts on the lives of DREAMers across the country.
A final destination for many immigrants, the decision’s effects are being felt by thousands of DREAMers on Long Island. In New York state, there are 775,000 undocumented immigrants compromising 3.9 percent of the total population in 2014. 1.2 million NY residents have lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014.
On Long Island, there are over 500,000 immigrants. Many organizations on the Island are looking to help those in the community affected by the DACA decision.
Osman Canales, founder of Long Island Immigrant Student Advocates (LIISA), strongly pushed for legislation like DACA. The organization focuses on empowering immigrants to continue their education, and developing young men and women to earn professional degrees.
When DACA was passed as an executive order, Canales saw the immense change in his members and students.
“A lot of these DREAMers, they have become independent. They are continuing their education because now they are able to work legally and are able to afford to pay for college. Before, they didn’t have that opportunity,” Canales said. “I know students that are teachers, nurses, even lawyers [and] with DACA they were able to have that profession.”
Canales credits DACA for helping undocumented immigrants add to the Long Island economy. “A lot of DREAMers are business owners that started their own businesses,” he said, “These are hardworking people that contribute so much to our communities.”
Being an immigrant himself, it was a painful moment for Canales when the Trump administration rescinded the program.
“I knew that many of my friends, many of our members were being affected by DACA,” Canales said. “DREAMers that have benefited from DACA are very afraid for what’s going to happen to them.”
But the advocate refuses to give up up hope. “I told my members that our commitment is that no matter what, we are going to fight for our communities and to stop deportations,” Canales said. “I made it clear that the community stands with them.”
Canales’ organization and the community showed their support for DREAMers by organizing a rally in Hicksville, with over 200 attendees. He said it was the largest demonstration he had ever attended on Long Island.
“There are many community members that do want them here, that do recognize their contributions, and that do want them to be apart of different communities,” Canales said.
Canales said that right now, his organization is sharing as much information and resources to DREAMers as it can. He said LIISA is supporting different clinics who helping with DACA renewal information and highly suggest DREAMers submit their applications for renewal. He also said the organization is holding a conference on October 20th at Nassau Community College, with the main focus to provide DREAMers with resources, opportunities, and information on how to continue their education in college.
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“It’s free, and it’s open to DREAMers, to our immigrant youth – documented and undocumented – and allies that would like to show support and learn about students’ issues,” Canales said. “Some of the information supplied will also talk about what’s next, and what we can do now that DACA will be rescinded.”
One such place holding clinics and assisting DREAMers is non-profit Carecen (Central American Refugee Center) located in Hempstead and Brentwood. Here, attorney and Director for Pathway to Citizenship Long Island Elise Damas explains, they provide free English classes as well as a host of different community workshops. These workshops focus on issues important to the immigrant community such as housing rights and knowing your rights with police. More recently, Carecen hosted DACA Renewal workshops and legal assistance for the 5 to 10,000 DREAMers on Long Island.
“The impact was absolutely enormous! I mean let’s talk about practical; you have people who have been educated in this country. [They] went through high school and have now been able to go into college… Individuals have been able also join our labor force in ways that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. The impact that it has had on the Long Island economy has been huge,” says Damas about DACA.
Eric Horn, a Brentwood immigration attorney, agrees with that sentiment. The lawyer, part of the Suffolk County Bar Association and current member and past co-chair of the New York Chapter of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said there is clearly come level of concern among his clients, including a valedictorian of a South Shore high school.
“I don’t need to make the argument to [the family] about the economic benefits of DACA,” Horn said, “They understand it. They live it.”
“Clearly, the fact that people with work permits are able to get better paying jobs, are able to buy homes…it made a lot of sense to have a program like DACA even if you disagree with how President Obama did it,” Horn said, “The idea of protecting these people who came here as children through no fault of their own is significant, in terms of a more global perspective and the Long Island economy.”
For the economy in New York, DACA recipients in 2016 paid an estimated $140 million in state in local taxes. Undocumented immigrants in total paid $1.1 billion in state and local taxes – a number that could increase to $1.3 billion if they should receive legal status.
Horn also acknowledges the fear among the communities he works in – part in fact to the increased patrol presence since President Trump put Brentwood on the map at a rally addressing gang violence. “I have heard anecdotally that places like restaurants are hurting because [DREAMers] are afraid ICE will go there.”
For Damas, DACA was a way for young people who were “American in every sense of the word” to participate in American society in ways that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Yet now, with the loss of DACA everything they would have been working for “in the past five years-and really since they’ve enter the United States- is in major jeopardy”.
“You’re talking about people who have trusted the U.S. government, have put themselves on the government radar, who have put down roots even deeper in this country than they would have otherwise,” Damas said. “They have invested in their educations, invested in buying homes and in truly becoming a part of the fabric of Long Island society.”
Ultimately, what Damas and those at Carecen are choosing to focus on is the future and assisting the immigrant community in ensuring that they are protected for as long as possible by any means. Damas said the first thing DREAMers should do is to make sure that if your work authorization is expired or is going to expire, renew it immediately. Because “where all of this talk is happening about March 5th being the end for DACA, for many folks it will really end next week if they haven’t renewed.”
Pat Young of CARECEN answers common questions about the end of DACA. Please share.
Damas also stressed the importance of using your voice.
“Continue to make [your] voices heard, to stand up, to advocate. It’s scary when you all of the sudden feel that you are more at risk than ever before, to stand up and draw attention to yourself,” Damas said. “but this is a time where if we’re quiet we lose. Use this space, use this spotlight to draw attention to the issue and to advocate for a more permanent solution.”