Trump Administration Signals Shift In Policy On DACA

Feb 16, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

More on DACA now. That's President Obama's program that protects immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. We've been following the case of Daniel Ramirez, a DACA recipient who was detained by immigration agents last week. Officials say he's a gang member. Homeland Security says when asked if he was involved with any gangs, Ramirez said, no, not no more. His lawyer has denied all that. His DACA status was terminated, and he's now in removal proceedings.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Ramirez is one of about 1,500 DACA recipients who have had their status revoked since the program began in 2012. To put that in perspective, more than 750,000 people have DACA protection. Studies have shown that overall, the program has had a positive effect on the lives of the recipients who can legally have a job and also a positive effect on the American economy. When President Trump was asked about DACA at a news conference today, he said, we're going to show great heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids in many cases, not in all cases. In some of the cases, they're having DACA, and they're gang members, and they're drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids. I would say mostly.

MCEVERS: Tom Wong has been following this closely. He researches immigration politics and policy at the University of California, San Diego. He says a difference in approach under the new president is already very apparent.

TOM WONG: When we think about the Obama administration and interior immigration enforcement, we saw that the Department of Homeland Security generally operated off of a set of priorities, so the highest priority individuals being violent criminals, for example, with folks like DACA recipients being low priority.

MCEVERS: Right.

WONG: What we have seen over the past week, though, is aggressive interior immigration enforcement that is raising alarms within the immigrant community such that DACA recipients no longer feel safe. And we also hear reports of somebody who is a domestic violence victim being detained by ICE off of a tip from her abuser. And so the game seems to have changed when it comes to interior immigration enforcement under Trump.

MCEVERS: We do have more details now from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement about this case we're talking about, Daniel Ramirez Medina in Washington state. ICE claims that he's a gang member. They say he left California and moved to Washington to, quote, "escape the gangs." They said he has a gang tattoo. His lawyer says this is false. I guess the question is, if any of it is true, would it have gotten him deported under President Obama?

WONG: So under the Obama administration, this individual may well have been subject to deportation. But that would have been to the extent that the Department of Homeland Security decided to pursue that individual for enforcement action.

MCEVERS: In the first place, you mean.

WONG: In the first place because under the Obama administration, what we saw, especially towards the end of the Obama administration, was a focus on what the administration liked to refer to as felons, not families...

MCEVERS: Right.

WONG: ...So that individuals who committed violent crimes - they were the subjects of immigration enforcement actions and not other individuals who fell under those lesser priority categories.

MCEVERS: So I just want to be clear, though. Even just having a gang tattoo and saying maybe you used to hang out with some gang folks - that's enough. Like, that could do it.

WONG: No. I think the case of Daniel Ramirez is fluid. We need to learn more.

MCEVERS: Right.

WONG: And we shouldn't overreact. But we may be seeing with this particular case where the Trump administration is going to draw the line when it comes to any sort of enforcement priorities. There is reason to believe that the Trump administration will cast a very wide net such that these sort of circumstances matter little when it comes to the process of apprehension, detention and subsequent deportation of undocumented immigrants.

MCEVERS: Tom Wong is an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego. Thank you very much.

WONG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.