Big Change As Trump Administration Pledges To Find Long-Term Solution For DACA

Jan 22, 2017
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Earlier today, the new White House Chief of Staff offered a hint of what the Trump administration has planned for thousands of immigrants who now have temporary legal status. Reince Priebus told Fox News this morning that the Trump administration would work with House and Senate leaders to find a long-term solution for immigrants who now have temporary legal status under the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals known as DACA. It's an Obama administration executive action granting temporary legal status for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. That's a big change because during the campaign President Trump had pledged to undo DACA.

NPR's Joel Rose met up with some of the people he met in 2012 at an event where immigrants could learn about DACA. He recently tracked them down to find out what DACA has meant to them.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The line to get into that event was long. It stretched out the door of a church basement on the Lower East Side and down the block. Dozens of young people waited for hours to find out more about DACA. Across the country, hundreds of thousands applied, including Daniela Alulema.

DANIELA ALULEMA: I was one among the 750,000 undocumented youth who came forward and decided to apply. And DACA has drastically changed my life.

ROSE: Alulema says DACA helped her go to grad school and get a better job with the Center for Migration Studies, a think tank in New York. But she also remembers that a lot of applicants were concerned about whether it was wise to hand over so much information to the government.

ALULEMA: As undocumented, we were concerned that we might put in jeopardy not only ourselves but also our families, that we would be coming forward to the government and telling them where we live, what we do. I'm happy I did it. But obviously, you know, the story's a little bit different now.

ROSE: It's different because President Trump pledged during the campaign to deport millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. There are fears that DACA sign-ups or their parents could be among those deported. A bipartisan group of senators has written a bill called the BRIDGE Act that would basically extend DACA's protections, but there's no guarantee it will go anywhere in Congress.

CESAR VARGAS: I could lose not just my work authorization, my driver's license, but I can also possibly lose my law license.

ROSE: Cesar Vargas is a lawyer in Staten Island. Back in 2012, he had graduated from law school and passed the New York bar exam. But without legal status, he had no idea if he would be admitted to practice law in the state. Now Vargas calls himself the first openly undocumented attorney in New York City. Last year he bought a house. Vargas says a lot of DACA recipients are now professionals with cars and mortgages.

VARGAS: It's not just taking away DACA. You're taking away something that has allowed many people to pay taxes - I pay taxes - and contribute to the economy in many ways that people - perhaps Donald Trump does not see.

NATALIA NARCISO: We're a start-up. We work with advertising.

ROSE: Natalia Narciso (ph) shows me the office where she works in Lower Manhattan. Narciso was born in Brazil and moved with her family to suburban Westchester County when she was 10. She says DACA made a huge difference for her.

NARCISO: I don't know if I would have finished school, honestly. Probably do some kind of job, like, under the books just to get by. It's changed a lot.

ROSE: Narciso is married to a U.S. citizen now, so her future looks more secure than some other people she knows. But Narciso still gets upset when she thinks about what could happen.

NARCISO: Do you want to secure borders and tighten up? I understand that. But to try to get rid of so many people that call this place home and, like, have been here for years? It's heartbreaking.

ROSE: DACA was never designed to be a permanent fix for the nation's immigration system, but it may turn out to be even more temporary than its supporters had hoped. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.