Political leaders, immigrant rights advocates and academics say the Trump administration's halt of proposed Obama-era protections for the undocumented parents of American children could have a devastating effect on Los Angeles County, a metropolis called home by about 1 million in the country illegally.
The policy shift was confirmed by federal officials Friday. Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which could have protected 5 million people from deportation, was eliminated by the Trump administration even as it was frozen under pending court litigation. Manuel Pastor, co-director of USC’s Center for Immigrant Integration, estimates that about 340,000 people would have been DAPA-eligible in L.A. County alone. Now they're pretty much fair game for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement officials, he says.
"These parents are at full risk of deportation," Pastor says. "Because we've got a much more established undocumented population than most cities, it's going to have a super big impact here."
While Trump's Department of Homeland Security kept its hands off 2012's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, children who came here illegally could still be affected. "A lot of research shows that once you realize your parents are subject to disappearing at any moment, it introduces stress and it has a deep impact on families and communities," Pastor says. "It's also a big challenge for the next generation."
Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights), says the Trump administration's hands-off approach to DACA, even if temporary, is "one ray of hope." "California has the largest number of people living under temporary protected status," she says.
But Salas also said this week's move against undocumented parents is "'callous." "It demonstrates that the administration's only interest is in the deportation and detention of the undocumented," she says.
Because children brought here illegally through no will of their own are Americanized, speak English and often know little about life and culture outside the United States, ending DACA as well as DAPA could have been seen as even more unsavory than just targeting undocumented parents, Pastor says. "I think the idea of going after young people seemed politically unattractive," he says.
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Still, Los Angeles could suffer. Because 1 in 10 Angelenos is undocumented, and because immigrants are often more likely to be business owners and small-scale entrepreneurs, the economy could take a hit, according to Pastor. He also notes that immigrants who obtain legal protection from deportation can see a 15 percent or more bump in annual income, which is often spent locally. "If you free people to work legally, their incomes are going to go up," he says.
Protectees also contribute to the economy by paying taxes, taking English classes and investing in job training, Pastor says. "There's significant economic cost to be paid for leaving people in legal limbo," he says.
Salas of CHIRLA says she's holding out hope that the Trump administration's deletion of DAPA will be successfully challenged in court. But she noted that immigration policy in recent years has lived and died by executive decision. President Obama wielded his executive pen on DAPA and DACA because Congress wouldn't act on long-promised immigration reform. When he did, many immigrant rights advocates stood with him. Trump is now using that pen to undo those reforms.
"We are hopeful" that the policy can be litigated, Salas says. "But the executive has a lot of discretion in this regard. We have to be vigilant. No program is safe, and we have to fight to protect our families."