15K Mich. 'dreamers' wary of Trump changes

Kim Kozlowski

Ever since Yvonne Navarrete was in first grade, she knew she wanted to go to college.

But as Navarrete was growing up in southwest Detroit, she realized she might not have that opportunity because her parents brought her and two brothers here from Mexico, and all are undocumented.

“My mom would always say, ‘Just have faith. Something might happen,’ ” she said.

Something did happen when Navarrete was in high school: She and others brought to this country while children got protection under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012.

Navarrete went on to graduate from Cass Tech High School and enrolled at the University of Michigan, where she plans to graduate in 2019 with a degree in public policy.

But she and thousands of other young people now are in limbo after President Donald Trump announced in September he was ending DACA but giving Congress six months to fix it.

Since then, UM and hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation have been pushing for federal legislation to keep the program going, while Navarrete and other “Dreamers” are coping with uncertainty about their futures.

Unless Congress acts by March 5, 2018, those enrolled in DACA will lose their legal protection — and could be deported to their native country.

“I’m hopeful that Congress isn’t heartless and will at least prolong DACA,” said Navarrete, 19. “But I’m fearful because Congress is majority Republican; they have never been supportive of immigrants, and the way Trump talks about immigrants and all of his supporters, no one is sure what will happen.”

“My worst fear,” Navarrete continued, “is that everything I have sacrificed and my parents have sacrificed thus far will be in vain and we will be deported, and all the opportunities that were placed upon us will be taken away. ”

DACA allowed unauthorized children who came to the United States with their parents to work and go to college and granted them a two-year deferment from deportation. Obama enacted the program after immigration reform measures stalled in Congress, including legislation to provide legal status for highly educated but undocumented young people.

In 2016, an estimated 1.9 million people in the U.S. were eligible for DACA, with the vast majority, nearly 1.29 million, from Mexico, according to data analyzed by the Migration Policy Institute. Of those, 15,000 in Michigan were eligible for the program.

Trump’s move has galvanized higher education leaders, activists, leaders across the political spectrum and even the president’s daughter, Ivanka, all of whom have called for a legislative fix.

Some, like UM associate professor Jason De Leon, said this could be the issue that forces Republicans to challenge Trump.

“There are many people in the Republican Party who see the brutality of this move,” said De Leon, who was recently awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, often known as a “genius grant,” for his work documenting clandestine migration along the U.S.-Mexican border.

“Lot of folks who have been quiet about a lot of these other foolish proclamations and proposals are going have to stand up and say we are going to have to draw the line here,” he said. “These kids represent the American dream, and this administration is mistreating them like we’ve never seen.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told a group of conservative lawmakers last week that he will include in a year-end spending plan a legislative fix for children who came to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants.

Also in recent weeks, local activists with moveon.org delivered a statement to U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop’s office in Brighton, urging him to support a “clean Dream Act.”

“It’s an act that would give Dreamers a legal pathway to citizenship, which they deserve because they don’t have a home in another country to go to,” said Lansing resident Byron Haskins, 63, who was among the group that delivered the statement to Bishop, R-Rochester Hills.

For his part, Trump said he was in a difficult predicament over DACA.

“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” Trump said in a statement in September when he ended the program. “But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

Obama’s executive order creating DACA made about 800,000 undocumented immigrants eligible for work permits and Social Security numbers.

Analysis by the Washington, D.C., think tank shows that the DACA-eligible population tends to work in white-collar jobs, while those not eligible are more likely to work in lower-paying jobs such as construction and building and grounds maintenance, Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, wrote in a recent commentary. If Congress does not act before March, training investments will be lost, she added.

“Instead of contributing their skills to the formal market, many one-time DACA recipients working without authorization will grow the country’s underground economy — which undermines a level playing field for all workers — and may see their job progress stall or even reverse,” Gelatt wrote. “If DACA ends before legislation is passed, this may also mean the United States misses out on the skills of what has been a growing cohort of educated workers.”

Soon after the president ended DACA, he demanded that legislation to extend DACA include increased immigration enforcement, funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and other measures.

Activists have since swung into action, and higher education leaders, including those in Michigan, have called on Congress to save DACA.

“Since its founding, Wayne State University has welcomed all who dream of a better life and supported all who study, work and live on our campus to achieve their potential,” Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson said in a letter to the campus community sent the day after Trump ended the program.

“We join hundreds of universities, as well as government, business and community leaders across the nation, in expressing our disappointment in this decision and urging Congress to work together and quickly find a solution to this important issue,” Wilson wrote.

In recent weeks, many universities have stood by education organizations such as the Association of American Universities and the American Council on Education as they’ve lobbied Congress to find a permanent solution for DACA recipients.

During a recent University of Michigan Regents meeting, President Mark Schlissel said the school was joining those associations, along with business, state and community leaders to call for quick congressional action.

“Dreamers contribute to American society economically by working,” Schlissel said. “They protect our nation by serving in the military. They contribute to brighter futures for all by attending college. Our priority at UM is ensuring that all of our students and scholars will be able to pursue their ambitions and the opportunities they have earned by being members of our academic community.”

Meanwhile, leaders at Michigan State University also have offered support and made the College of Law’s Immigration Law Clinic available to consult with DACA students about their legal options, according to a recent university memo.

For Barbara Diaz — a UM international studies senior and DACA recipient whose parents brought her here from Chile when she was 4 — life is day-to-day.

“Some days, I am just scared and it takes up my mind all day,” said Diaz, 20, of Walled Lake. “Other days, I am more hopeful about it because in a way I try to see it as there’s a reason why (Trump) didn’t completely get rid of the program. The fact he is giving Congress this time, there has to be something else that he has planned. I am trying to be optimistic.”