On September 5th President Trump sent Attorney General Jeff Sessions to announce that his Administration would revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This Obama administration policy allowed the children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States. For almost all of the 800,000 young people who registered under DACA, the United States is the only home that they know.
Four days later, on Saturday September 9th (2017) immigration policy expert Rosa Santana spoke the PeaceWorks community at our dinner forum at the Friends Meeting in Chatham, NJ. About 50 of us came out to share a meal and learn about immigration policy, especially on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and a second immigration program called the Temporary Protection Status (TPS). Both DACA and TPS are under threat to be revoked by the Trump Administration, potentially upending the lives of over a million immigrants.
Rosa works with First Friends NJ, a community-based organization best known for setting up social visits between New Jersey residents and immigrants who are detained in local jails: Bergen County Jail, Elizabeth Detention Center, Essex County Jail and Hudson County Jail. But for Rosa, visiting immigrants in detention has never been just a professional endeavor.
In 1999 Rosa came as a teenager to the U.S. from Honduras a few months after Hurricane Mitch. In October 1998, Mitch planted itself over Central America for nearly a week leaving over 11,000 dead and great parts of Honduras and Nicaragua destroyed. Rosa escaped the devastation and joined her mother who had been living in the U.S. for a number of years. When she arrived, Rosa applied for TPS and the U.S. Government did the right thing, granting her and thousands of other Hondurans Temporary Protection Status.
TPS is granted to immigrants who cannot return home because of natural disaster, war and other serious situations beyond immigrants’ control.
Today, nearly 60,000 Hondurans, 3,000 Nicaraguans and 200,000 Salvadorans may have their TPS revoked, causing uncertainty and fear for immigrants who fled their countries out of fear or necessity. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from 20 other countries also face the same uncertainty.
Years ago, with TPS, Rosa set out make a difference at an early age. She went to school, learned English and eventually got a degree in Criminal Justice. But not everyone in her family had the protected status.
Rosa’s uncle, who had also come to the U.S., was working and paying taxes, was arrested and put in detention by U.S. Immigration. Rosa began visiting him in jail and remembers how much weight he had lost, how little he slept — how desperate he had become. When he was finally deported back to Honduras without warning or support, Rosa kept going back to the jail to visit other detainees.
It wouldn’t be long before she began organizing others to visit detainees, lifting their spirits and giving them hope.
Rosa is now married and became a citizen – the United States is her home. So, to see other young people, the “dreamers,” potentially lose the only place they know as their home, brings tears to her eyes.
At the dinner forum, it took a moment or two for Rosa to gather her thoughts, push back the tears, but she told us about the Dreamers she knows – how hard they study, how hard they work. She told us about how they had trusted our government and registered for DACA and how they dreamed of finally making the only home they know, their permanent home.
800,000 young immigrants could face deportation unless Congress acts quickly.
When Rosa spoke to us, nothing was certain. It was only four days since Trump sent Sessions out to do his dirty work. But for the moment, there are signs of hope — maybe a deal will be cut extending protections for Dreamers. But until that happens, Rosa asked us to remain vigilant and that we all have a role to play.
To close the evening, Rosa listed specific things we could do to support immigrants in our communities.
1. fight for local policies to protect immigrants from deportation
2. make sure our local police do not collaborate with ICE
3. fight for policies to prevent ICE arrests in courthouses
4. advocate to ensure public defenders provide proper immigration advice
5. support campaigns against discriminatory surveillance, special registration, and data sharing
6. stand up for policies that welcome refugees in our communities
7. learn about how organizations are fighting back against raids and deportations.
8. support organizations, such as “First Friends of NJ & NY”