Immigration attorneys’ fears grow over uncertain DACA future

Border Patrol agents patrol the United States-Mexico Border wall during Opening the Door Of Hope/Abriendo La Puerta De La Esparana at Friendship Park in San Ysidro, California on Saturday, November 19, 2016. / AFP / Sandy Huffaker        (Photo credit should read SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

Border Patrol agents patrol the United States-Mexico Border wall during Opening the Door Of Hope/Abriendo La Puerta De La Esparana at Friendship Park in San Ysidro, California on Saturday, November 19, 2016. / AFP / Sandy Huffaker (Photo credit should read SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly said his administration will take a tough stance on illegal immigration. His potential policies include a wall along the border with Mexico, tripling the number of ICE agents, and a two-year mandatory minimum sentence for those who enter the United States illegally, but one position in particular has some immigration attorneys scrambling to find the best way forward.

Trump has said he will terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive action signed into law by President Obama in 2012 that gives some undocumented immigrants an exemption from deportation and a renewable two-year work permit.

The uncertainty over DACA’s future is leading Elizabeta Markuci and other lawyers to advise their clients not to submit new applications.

“I want to see if the current administration is going to cancel the program,” Markuci said.

“Until I know, I can’t in good faith tell my clients to apply. It’s too risky.”

Markuci directs the immigration project at Volunteers of Legal Service, an organization that provides pro bono legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers. Many of her clients come for help with their DACA applications, and Markuci works to pair them with appropriate legal representation.

She said she received numerous calls and text messages the night of the election from clients who were scared about the future. CNN has reported on the fears of several DACA recipients after the election.

More than 740,000 people have been approved to receive DACA status, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics. Markuci fears the program will be shut down, but also that the Trump administration might use the DACA database to identify undocumented immigrants.

“By helping new applicants with DACA, we might be exposing them. I have a responsibility to advise clients in a way that is appropriate.”

Possible financial impact

Jose Magaña-Salgado agreed. He’s the managing policy attorney at the San Francisco-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

“We’re expecting a long, significant, four-year battle to preserve due process and keep families together,” Magaña-Salgado said.

In an upcoming report, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center estimates ending DACA would reduce Social Security and Medicare tax contributions by $24.6 billion over a decade.

Businesses could incur $3.4 billion of turnover costs, e.g. costs associated with the termination and replacement of an employee, according to the center’s estimates.

Magaña-Salgado said he feels the risks are significantly greater for new DACA applicants than for renewals. Since the election, he has been working to put social and political pressure on the new administration.

His strategy involves putting through letters to elected officials and talking with business leaders about the potential financial consequences of deporting undocumented workers and DACA recipients.

“There is a wholesale recognition that we now likely face one of the most severe environments for immigrants,” he said.

“It’s our job to make sure this is not a consequence-free proposition.”

Concerns for applicants

At an event at New York University on Monday night, immigration rights lawyers and community leaders from a number of organizations discussed concerns that extend to people who are DACA recipients and those whose applications are pending.

Markuci said she sees potential risks for individuals who had prior removal orders but did not leave the country, and for young people who applied for DACA who had previous misdemeanor offenses that were not considered serious enough to block their applications under the Obama administration.

Markuci now spends her time doing community outreach and connecting with other attorneys and nonprofit organizations to create a large “safety net” for immigrant families.

“I’m hopeful I’m doing all this work for nothing, but I don’t have the luxury of taking a chance with my clients.”