Donald Trump spent the presidential campaign promising to kick me and other undocumented immigrants out of the country. Now a federal database created to protect those of us who arrived as children could help him do just that.
More than 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought here as kids, myself included, have willingly handed over our personal information to the federal government as part of a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The program, started by President Obama through executive action in 2012, was supposed to temporarily shield us from deportation and give us temporary employment authorization.
When I applied for the temporary status in 2013, I had to provide U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with every detail of my personal information — school records, bank accounts, my original Argentine passport and birth certificate and more, along with my address and every location I’d lived for the last 20 years. I included a check for $465 and went to a USCIS office near me in Miami to have my fingerprints and photograph taken. Since then, I have completed an application for renewal twice, with updates on my current address, everywhere I’ve lived since my previous application, and my current income. I received my most recent renewal just last month.
If Trump wants to use it to find undocumented immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security’s database of our addresses, fingerprints, employers and more could easily become a weapon instead of a shield. The database likely also includes information on thousands of Dreamers who applied and were denied for failing to pass a criminal background check or because they didn’t have sufficient evidence of continuous residence in the U.S. since June 2007, which is one of the guidelines for eligibility. When the program first launched, I volunteered at the law clinic that had helped me with my own application, and I remember many families struggling to produce the necessary documentation to prove their continuous residency. They have “outed” themselves to the federal government without benefitting from the program for the last four years.
Now Obama should order the database deleted before Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20.
According to USCIS, “information provided in [a DACA application] is protected from disclosure to ICE and CBP for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings.” That policy could easily be reversed under Trump, though. Using this database of undocumented immigrants, the “deportation task force” Trump has promised to set up would have an easy place to start in their efforts to deport all undocumented immigrants. But those who have applied for DACA are not the only ones in danger in this situation.
When the DACA program was announced, not everyone who was eligible was excited about it. Many of us were overjoyed at a chance to work and drive legally and be at least temporarily relieved from the constant fear of deportation. But others were more hesitant, knowing that any future president who disagreed with Obama on immigration policy would have a list of candidates for deportation at his disposal. Others were afraid of inadvertently putting their undocumented parents or relatives who were ineligible for the temporary status in danger by handing over the information required for application.
Even today, less than half of the about 2 million people eligible for DACA have applied to receive it. Many who didn’t must feel they made the right choice. Those of us who did apply had to risk the safety of our family to gain protection for ourselves and to be able to support our relatives through access to employment and other benefits. For those of us who were trying to work hard to justify our parents’ sacrifice in bringing us to this country and leaving behind their own, taking this risk can feel incredibly selfish. The Obama administration asked us to trust the government with our information and that of our family, promising it was only a temporary measure until Congress would pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Comprehensive immigration reform never came, and now we’re facing the most anti-immigrant presidency in recent history. President-elect Trump has already promised to deport at least 2 to 3 million “criminal” undocumented immigrants in his first year. Obama deported about that many in eight years — and that set a record for deportations in one presidency. There are not anywhere near 2 million undocumented immigrants with a criminal record. If Trump really wants to deport that many people so quickly, it won’t be long before the DACA database listing hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants starts to look like an irresistible tool to meet his campaign promises.
Now it’s time for Obama to own up to the fact that his administration failed on his own promise of finally pushing Congress to reform the immigration system, and he owes us a great debt.
In his statement announcing DACA four years ago, Obama said, “As long as I’m President, I will not give up on this issue, not only because it’s the right thing to do for our economy…not just because it’s the right thing to do for our security, but because it’s the right thing to do, period.” If Obama truly wants to do the right thing for undocumented immigrants who came here as kids, he can start by making sure the information we entrusted him with does not end up in the hands of Trump and his deportation task force.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is already considering deleting his city’s own database of undocumented immigrants. Some lawmakers are starting to push for the federal database to be destroyed, too: Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said last week that Dreamers like me need protection from Trump. About a third of the people who got DACA benefits live in California. “We promised them security,” Chu said.
Undocumented immigrants cannot afford to simply “wait and see” if Trump will decide to dump one of his signature campaign promises. I’ve already begun to make plans about what to do if I’m still undocumented when Trump is inaugurated just 20 miles from where I live in Maryland. The lease on my apartment doesn’t end until May — will I have to move early to avoid deportation? I am very lucky, considering: My parents just became eligible for citizenship this year, and once they take the test and become naturalized, they can petition for a green card for me. Even then, USCIS is severely backed up with the multitude of applications for citizenship, green cards, visas and DACA renewals likely fueled by the fear of a Trump presidency. We do not know how this might all change once Trump is in office. Trump promised to deport millions of people, and he’s appointed advisors — such as Steven K. Bannon as a senior White House counselor and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general — who will carry that threat out. This is not just rhetoric, it’s a reality we need to prepare for now.
Obama came into office as a symbol of hope for all of us, and he helped many undocumented immigrants realize lifelong dreams with the DACA program. Now we need him to restore our hope one last time before he leaves.