Advocates warn ‘dreamers’ to lie low as Trump steps up deportations

WASHINGTON — Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups are advising immigrants in the country illegally not to enroll in a federal deferred-action program created by former president Barack Obama because of fears that the Trump administration will use their personal information to detain and deport them.

The caution reflects deepening anxiety over sweeping new enforcement guidelines from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly that aim to increase deportations of 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Kelly’s directives do not overturn the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has granted renewable, two-year work permits to more than 750,000 immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.


But lawyers said that the broad expansion of the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement powers has heightened the risk for immigrants who have registered with the agency.

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Under the program, applicants are required to present proof of their identity, such as a passport or birth certificate, and show documentation of where they go to school or work.

‘‘The main risk is bringing attention to yourself,’’ said Gregory Chen, advocacy director for the 14,000-member American Immigration Lawyers Association, which is advising people not to enroll.

‘‘Our reading of the DHS memos, and we’ve looked carefully at the language that creates an exception for and retains DACA, is that they really are cold comfort to anyone concerned about the viability of their immigration status,’’ Chen said.

The uncertainty threatens to place Obama’s signature immigration program in an indefinite state of limbo and lower participation levels even if President Trump does not formally end it. Trump had derided DACA as an ‘‘unconstitutional executive amnesty’’ in a speech in August, but he has equivocated since taking office.


At a news conference this month, Trump called the program ‘‘one of the most difficult subjects I have’’ and pledged to ‘‘show great heart’’ toward those enrolled in DACA, commonly known as ‘‘dreamers.’’

DHS officials said concerns that DACA recipients would be targeted for deportation were unfounded, and emphasized that the agency continues to process applications as it had under Obama’s administration.

‘‘We don’t want there to be fear or panic,’’ said Gillian Christensen, an agency spokeswoman. ‘‘We’ve made it pretty clear that DACA recipients are not affected’’ by the DHS directives.

But advocates said they have little faith in those promises, pointing out that Kelly’s memos state that DHS ‘‘no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.’’

On the day the memos were released, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that ‘‘everybody who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time.’’


David Leopold, an immigration attorney in Cleveland, said the Trump administration is ‘‘attempting to create a false narrative that they are going after criminals and that they’re protecting dreamers, when in fact they have set priorities for deportation that throw out the Obama administration’s [narrow] enforcement priorities and, if you read it closely, really encompass everyone.’’

‘The main risk is bringing attention to yourself.’

The mixed signals from the Trump administration have convinced advocates that DACA’s future remains doubtful and that its protections are flimsy.

A White House draft executive order, leaked to news organizations last month, showed that Trump was considering a plan to halt new DACA applications.

Alarm grew this month after federal agents in Seattle arrested a 23-year-old DACA recipient who was born in Mexico. Authorities have alleged that Daniel Ramirez Medina has gang ties and he remains in federal custody. His attorneys deny any gang affiliation and are suing for his release.

“People have a lot of anxiety and fear,’’ said Cristina Jiménez, executive director of United We Dream, the largest advocacy group for dreamers. Jiménez said her organization has received more than 400 calls and thousands of e-mails since the ICE raids, and is advising undocumented immigrants not to sign up for DACA and cautioning those already in the program not to travel outside the country even though the rules allow them to do so.

Obama’s creation of DACA in 2012 was viewed as a major victory for the dreamers, a group estimated at almost 2 million, who have lived most of their lives in the United States and emerged as a powerful political force over the past decade.

Trump’s caution in overturning DACA demonstrates the sensitive politics regarding the dreamers. Public polls have showed that a majority of the public supports the program.