Donald Trump’s team ‘poking around’ for information on immigrants

President-elect Donald Trump

NEW YORK – United States President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly taken the first step toward confirming one of the worst fears of undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants who have taken advantage of a programme that grants them temporary stay in the US.

According to New York’s Vice News, a US Department of Homeland Security memo – the president-elect’s team is “poking around the agency” for information about recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA.

President Barack Obama started the programme through an executive action in 2012 as a way for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements to achieve two-year status in the US to work or attend college.

According to Vice News, while Trump pledged to “immediately terminate” DACA on his first day in the Oval Office, immigration groups worried he would take his hard-line policy a step further and use the programme to locate undocumented immigrants and pursue deportations.

In fact, it said some immigration groups have started advising their clients not to apply for DACA protection.

During a December 5 meeting with Homeland Security officials, Vice News said Trump’s transition team inquired if any employees had altered DACA records out of concern for immigrants’ civil liberties, according to the internal memo.

The team also requested copies of every immigration executive order and directive since 2009, when Obama first took office.

“While Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security that oversees the DACA programme, already shares information with Citizenship and Immigrant Services (ICE) when cases involve certain criminal offences, giving ICE full access to pursue deportations would reverse the original intent of the programme,” Vice News said.

In a private analysis, the Saint Paul, Minnesota-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) found that no president over the last 50 years had used a programme granting relief to undocumented immigrants to later target the same group. The ILRC is a US national non-profit that works with immigrants, community organisations, legal professionals, law enforcement, and policymakers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people.

Last month, California Congresswoman Judy Chu sent a letter, along with 109 other members of the US Congress, urging President Barack Obama to protect information in the database.

In response, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said for decades, the agency has used personal information only for immigration enforcement in limited circumstances of criminality or national security.

“We believe these representations made by the US government, upon which DACA applicants most assuredly relied, must continue to be honoured,” he wrote.

On January 20, when Trump is sworn in as the next US president, retired Marine Gen John Kelly will replace Johnson at the helm of Homeland Security.

“Kelly’s experience with immigration is thin, and organisations unsure of what he’ll prioritise are worried about the future of undocumented immigrants in the US,” Vice News said.

DACA offers applicants the opportunity to legally work, apply for a social security number, get a drivers’ licence, and travel to and from the US.

Only those who entered the US before the age of 16 and had not turned 31 before Obama created the policy can apply for the two-year status with US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Trump has pledged to “immediately terminate” DACA, in addition to promising to cancel, on his first day in the White House, “every unconstitutional executive action” made by Obama, Vice News said.

It said whether Trump will make good on his promise, and exactly how, remains unclear, especially for the 741,546 approved for the programme, with another 750,000 to apply.

Between October and December of last year, 45,576 DACA applications were accepted, 16,336 of them initial and 29,240 renewal, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

ILRC and the National Immigration Law Centre are advising clients that the risks of applying for DACA, especially for the first time, may outweigh the benefits since the election, Vice News said.

It said two of the largest public universities in the country, the City University of New York (CUNY) and the University of California-Berkeley, are “openly advising undocumented students not to apply for the programme”.

“If they’re not already in removal proceedings and if they’ve never been part of an immigration enforcement activity, now moving into the Trump-era might not be the time to submit an application that you’re here without documentation,” said Sally Kinoshita, ILRC’s deputy director said.