Looming debate over DACA program spurs federal lawsuit
Democrats called on Republicans to find a solution for DACA recipients on the 6th anniversary of the program being installed. They also pushed back against President Trump who blamed Democrats for the separation of families at the border. (June 15)
While much of the nation's attention has been focused of late on the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy that led to thousands of separated families along the southern border with Mexico, a lawsuit filed in federal court on Tuesday is a reminder of another looming immigration battle.
The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that has advised the Trump administration on immigration policy and advocates for lower levels of legal and illegal immigration, filed suit in the District of Columbia to force the government to turn over data on people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
That Obama-era program has shielded from deportation 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, but President Donald Trump announced last year he would terminate it. A federal judge ordered the program to remain active, and the Supreme Court is expected to ultimately decide its fate later this year.
That delay has allowed Congress to put DACA on the back burner for months, but Tuesday's lawsuit shows how contentious the battle over those "Dreamers" will get if the Supreme Court strikes the program down and Congress must decide whether to spare it.
In its lawsuit, the center asked a judge to force the government to release reams of data from applications filed by DACA applicants. The suit is not requesting personal information, only a tally of how applicants answered certain questions.
Those questions include where the applicants were born, what U.S. zip codes they're currently living in, and whether they'd ever been deported. Much of the data the group is seeking focuses on any possible criminal history that the applicants listed, including any arrests, charges or convictions on a wide variety of crimes.
Jessica Vaughan, policy director for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the data is needed because little is publicly known about the group and a thorough analysis is needed before Congress takes any steps to grant them long-term deportation protections or legal U.S. residency.
"This will enable policymakers and the public to assess the impact of this controversial program on American communities," Vaughan said. "Congress should not be making legislation based on advocacy group press releases and social media memes; it needs accurate information, ideally from the federal government's own records."
Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director for United We Dream, an organization made up of young undocumented immigrants, said it was clear that the Center for Immigration Studies is simply trying to paint DACA recipients in the worst possible light. For example, the lawsuit does not ask the government to compile data on answers detailing military service, or graduation from colleges or universities.
"What they're seeking is a very criminalizing, singular portrayal of immigrant youth," Abrar said. "I'm not surprised given the track record and history of that center."
The Center for Immigration Studies has served as the research arm of a group of organizations that advocate for lower levels of immigration. Its officials have regularly testified before Congress on immigration legislation, and one of its fellows, Ronald Mortensen, was nominated in May by Trump to head the State Department's refugee and migration program.
But the group has also come under fire for its positions, most notably by the Southern Poverty Law Center which labeled it a "hate group" last year. The center has fought back against that accusation, arguing it's irresponsible to liken a group that carefully crafts policy positions for less immigration with violent groups that truly preach hatred like the Klu Klux Klan.
"(The Southern Poverty Law Center) allegations are false and malicious, and intended to smear out organization, apparently because this once-reputable group does not agree with our policy recommendations," Vaughan said.
Abrar said her organization plans to fill in the gaps in the center's research, as it did last year when it teamed up with several immigration advocacy groups to survey thousands of DACA recipients. The survey showed the economic and educational benefits that DACA recipients enjoyed, due in large part to the work permits that come with acceptance into the program.