March 7, 2018

DACA Deadline Passes, DREAMers in Limbo; Local Groups Seek to Support Immigrants 

RAPID RESPONSE: Joel Wattacheril, representing the Reformed Church of Highland Park’s Project DIRE (Deportation and Immigration Response), and Adriana Abizadeh, executive director of LALDEF, spoke to a gathering at St. Paul’s Church last Thursday about preparation for ICE raids. (Photo Courtesy of Anastasia Mann)

By Donald Gilpin

The six-month deadline for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program passed on Monday, but court rulings have blocked President Trump from terminating the program for now, and the DREAMers remain in limbo.

Trump passed the problem to Congress to resolve disagreements over the DACA program, which protected people brought to the country illegally as children from deportation, but negotiations in Congress have made little progress. There are currently more than 17,600 DACA recipients in New Jersey, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied Monday at five different sites throughout New Jersey in a statewide day of action in support of a legislative solution to provide permanent protections for the DREAMers.

“It’s been six months since the Trump administration announced the end of the DACA program,” said Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) Executive Director Adriana Abizadeh, who helped to lead the Monday afternoon rally at Rep. Chris Smith’s office in Hamilton. “We need Congress to act now. The Trump administration created this crisis when they terminated DACA on September 5, and they are to blame for the hundreds of DREAMers facing deportation.”

She continued, “We’re making it very clear that our families are a non-negotiable in future debates on a permanent solution for undocumented young people. Congress must pass legislation now to give a pathway to citizenship to DACAmented youth. We need a DREAM Act now.”

As part of a statewide day of action for a clean DREAM Act, claiming “no dream deferred,” demonstrators also gathered Monday at Rep. Leonard Lance’s office in Westfield, Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s office in Mays Landing, and on Rutgers University campuses in Newark and New Brunswick.

In a different sort of meeting sponsored by the Neighborhood Sanctuary Alliance (NSA) and held at St. Paul’s Church on Nassau Street last Thursday night, about 45 allies of immigrants gathered to plan how to respond most effectively to stepped-up enforcement and raids by immigration officials.

“It’s not a question of whether the federal government’s campaign of harassment, intimidation, and arrest returns to this area, only of when,” the organizers stated in their invitation. “We will learn from experts about how we can organize in advance of the next raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on our neighbors and our town.”

Featured speakers included Farrin R. Anello, ACLU senior staff attorney; Joel Wattacheril of the Reformed Church of Highland Park’s Project DIRE (Deportation and Immigration Response); and Abizadeh.

They described the current enforcement landscape, explained the rights of witnesses and targets, and highlighted best practices from other neighborhood networks around the country.

“We came together to learn from experts about our rights and responsibilities,” said NSA co-founder Anastasia Mann, a historian and lecturer in public and international affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. “From our neighbors at DIRE out of Highland Park we learned how to protect each other, and what is at stake when we do.”

She continued, “When ICE drags people out of their homes in pre-dawn raids, they do more than violate our values. When they cast aside rights like due process and habeas corpus, we consider it an attack on America. And it’s an attack we won’t let go unanswered. Those who came out to St. Paul’s are drawing on a long tradition, shared by all the world’s major faiths, of standing with and for the most vulnerable among us.”

Mann emphasized the importance of guaranteed universal legal representation for people in immigration proceedings, a policy just enacted in New York City, as well as providing access to driver’s licenses for undocumented residents, and “halting the egregious attacks that are being needlessly carried out on parents and children, sisters and brothers, neighbors and parishioners.”

She noted that Thursday’s meeting brought together community members who may differ superficially, “by age, race, ethnicity, income, education, religion, gender expression — but who hold to the same idea of what the community and the country we live in stand for. We’re all in this together.”