On July 13, 2017, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly had a closed-door meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). The discussion focused on the important immigration issues that are top of mind for many in our community, including the futures of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy and the designations of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Combined, DACA and TPS shield more than 1.1 million—predominantly Latino individuals—from deportation.
Instead of alleviating concerns, the conversation raised many more alarms and led to scathing statements from CHC members. For starters, Secretary Kelly indicated that after talking to various “experts” that he had doubts about the legality of DACA. This is puzzling, given the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the executive branch has “broad discretion” in matters relating to immigration, and “must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.” DACA is consistent with this reasoning. On DACA, Kelly also stated that decisions about the future of DACA will be left to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions’s strong anti-immigrant positions and ties to extremist groups is well documented, and is a cause for concern for the more than 800,000 DACA recipients and their supporters.
DACA has been thrust into the limelight in recent weeks following the transmittal of letter by 10 Attorneys Generals who have threatened to go after the DACA policy in court unless the administration takes steps to terminate DACA on their own. These Attorneys Generals are comprised from the same group that went after the Deferred Action of Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) policy in 2015. This tactically savvy move puts the Trump administration in the awkward position of ending the DACA after making assurances that DACA recipients “should not be worried,” or defending the Obama-era policy, which as a candidate he promised to end. The administration has until September 5 to determine how it will proceed, meanwhile the sense of urgency has ratcheted up in Congress to find a legislative fix, such as the DREAM Act.
Moreover, Kelly’s remarks at the CHC meeting also cast doubts on the future of TPS designations for El Salvador and Honduras, which combined shield approximately 250,000 individuals from deportation for humanitarian reasons. TPS is a statutory provision, which enables the Secretary of Homeland Security to temporarily shield the removal of certain individuals from countries that have, as in the case of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua with a string of vicious hurricanes in the early 2000s, suffered from environmental disasters. TPS recipients from these countries have been granted work authorization by our government, and the vast majority of which was been lawfully present in the country for more than 16 years. Unfortunately, Despite evidence to the contrary, Kelly seems unconvinced that the Central American countries continue to merit a continued designation for TPS.
This news comes on the same day that House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security voted along party lines to pass a funding bill that would significantly increase funding for interior immigration enforcement. The proposed $705 million funding increase for immigration enforcement would go toward approximately 10,000 more detention beds than this time next year, and the hiring of 1,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and agents. If that isn’t bad enough, the bill would give the president $1.6 billion for a senseless border wall that members on both side of the aisle say we don’t need.
This administration continues to eschew commonsense immigration enforcement in favor of a scheme that empowers low level ICE field officers and promotes a culture of “cheap enforcement wins.” More funding alone is a reckless course of action. Unfortunately, this week we learned that there are no limits the depths of this administration’s lows, as they appear to be moving in the direction of targeting long time members of our communities that by the very definition of the policies shielding them from deportation – DACA and TPS – pose no threat to public safety.