Advocates discuss effects of ending DACA program on Alabamians

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Trump Administration's rescission of Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was met with support and criticism Tuesday.

The Obama-era program granted deportation protections to an estimated 800,000 people brought into the US as children.

The Department of Homeland Security wrote: "Current DACA recipients will be permitted to retain both the period of deferred action and their employment authorization documents (EADs) until they expire, unless terminated or revoked. DACA benefits are generally valid for two years from the date of issuance."

Jeff Sessions, US Attorney General, said, "If we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and the rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach."

President Donald Trump publicly defended his decision, but is leaving it in Congress's hands.

"I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly," he said.

But critics of the move, including President Barack Obama, called it "self-defeating" and "cruel."

Tuesday became a day of action, with protests, marches, and gatherings across the nation.

"People who have earned the right to be here, who are hard-working, who are going to school, who are doing all the right things, are being attacked," said Diana Donez from one march.

Effect on Alabama

WHNT News 19 contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, where they are closely monitoring this development.

"These are people who are American in everything but legal status," said Naomi Tsu, Deputy Legal Director. "The President's decision is a really unfortunate one that sends people back into uncertainty and into the shadows instead of being able to move forward like they did with DACA."

She said, "The legal protections from deportation allowed young people to get jobs, to work legally, to buy cars, to buy homes, to go to school, to become financially independent and to build lives in this country where they have grown up."

She believes this decision affects nearly 5,000 young people in Alabama.

"It leaves these young people who trusted in the government at real risk," she stated. "They won't be able to have that kind of legal authorization to pursue their dreams and build a life for themselves."

Tsu told WHNT News 19 the SPLC has taken calls from DACA recipients around the South, including from Alabamians, who are now concerned about their futures.

"Some community members say, 'What does this mean for me? If I have DACA or my little sister has DACA, what does this mean? Does this mean ICE is going to show up at my door? What do I do?' she said. "There is a lot of questioning that's happening right now. There are fears that are being felt in communities and households across this nation and in Alabama. I would just encourage people to continue to reach out to us at the SPLC or other organizations that can help explain your legal rights. It's just really good to be operating on good information."

The ACLU of Alabama and SPLC are each working out how they can best help.

Lucia Hermo, Public Advocacy Director for the ACLU of Alabama, said, "What we see is the most effective strategy is to urge people to call their Congress member and urge them to pass the Dream Act, so people who are at risk of losing status can get a pathway to residency and citizenship."

Tsu also urged Congress to act on the Dream Act, which would allow immigrant students to apply for legal status and potentially to gain citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military.

"Pass a clean bill to legalize immigrant youth so that they can know they are safe from deportation. Allow them the ability to work legally, to continue to move forward with their educations and with their lives," she expressed.

These advocacy organizations still are not sure of all the ramifications of the decision, but they believe even non-immigrants may feel an aftershock.

"A recent analysis found the Alabama economy would suffer losses of 180 million dollars per year from lost productivity were DACA to be ended," said Tsu.

"We think it will be more disruptive than a lot of people think, to our society. Stand up, tell your legislators. We have a little time for some people to pass the Dream Act and make sure these youth who put themselves on-line for applying to DACA in the first place, are protected," said Hermo.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services wrote on its website what is next for phasing out DACA.

Meanwhile, an event to support DACA is scheduled in Birmingham tomorrow: