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NH immigrant advocates say DACA decision hits hard

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 05. 2017 8:25PM
Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to a news conference to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program at the Justice Department in Washington on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Anxiety shot through the hearts of New Hampshire’s so-called "dreamers" on Tuesday, after the Trump administration announced it would end a program that protects them from deportation, two immigrant advocates said.

The teenagers and young adults had qualified for the Obama Administration’s program called Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The program provides Social Security numbers, work authorizations and legalized status to people who had entered the United States illegally as children.

Many are now young adults.

“People are very, very upset,” Eva Castillo, an immigrant rights advocate, said Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it will phase out the Obama-era program over six months.

New DACA applications will be rejected as of today, and two-year renewals will be accepted up to March 5, Homeland Security said.

Trump has said the timetable gives Congress six months to pass legislation to address the issue.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said Congress needs to find a solution.

“Our country should not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parents,” Sununu said.

Shaheen called Trump’s decision cruel, inhumane and unnecessary.

“This decision drives hundreds of innocent Dreamers in the Granite State, and hundreds of thousands across the country, into the shadows of our society,” Shaheen said.

Manchester-based immigration lawyer Enrique Mesa said his office saw a rush for DACA applications in January and early February, after Trump was sworn in. His DACA clients are worried, fearing Immigration and Customs Enforcement will start picking them up after March 5.

“I don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. They’ve done everything right. Now they’re stuck with Congress getting their act together,” Mesa said.

It’s difficult to get an exact figure on how many people live in New Hampshire under DACA.

According to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, 357 people with New Hampshire addresses received initial approval under DACA. But that could change as people move in and out of the state.

Nationally, 800,000 fall under DACA.

Castillo said most live in the Manchester-Nashua area. They work in banks, supermarkets, restaurants and in construction. They are licensed nursing assistants or medical billing assistants. Mesa said some work at auto dealers; one is a legal assistant.

With a Social Security number, they have been able to attend college. Most attend Manchester or Nashua community college, Castillo said.

“For the most part, they work,” Castillo said. “They work and they earn more than their parents because they have legal status.”

Both University of New Hampshire and Southern New Hampshire University said they do not track DACA students. The community college system did not return an inquiry.

At SNHU, President Paul LeBlanc said he opposes the President’s decision.

“Brought here as infants or children, these young people should be afforded the opportunity to follow their dreams, including serving our country or studying in college, making the kinds of contributions that are the backbone of the American story,” he said in a statement.

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