When it comes to Trump’s changes to immigration policy, many immigrants have a common question: Who is affected and what do the changes mean for them?
It’s a question that Martha Ruch, staff attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles says she hears constantly from her clients.
Since taking office, Trump dramatically expanded the definition of who can be prioritized for deportation. Immigration attorneys say that under the expanded definition, nearly any undocumented immigrant could be considered a target.
The first thing to understand, Ruch said, is what undocumented means.
“Visa overstayers, as well as people who came without a visa, are undocumented,” Ruch explained on a recent national press call organized by New America Media and Ready California.
Legal immigrants, especially those who have criminal issues or travel internationally, may want to check with an attorney to find out their options and risks, Ruch said.
U.S. citizens are not generally going to be affected, Ruch said. “Citizens are not deportable, including naturalized citizens,” she said.
How safe are DACA recipients?
The arrest and detention of several Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients has raised questions about how safe DACA recipients are from deportation.
DACA, which was launched by President Obama in 2012 through an executive order, provides access to a work permit and temporary protection from deportation to qualifying young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.
Currently, the DACA program remains in effect. However, the program could be terminated at any time.
It’s unknown what Trump will decide to do on DACA. A leaked draft executive order, which has not been signed, proposed to end the program, allowing work permits to expire on their own. Trump himself has said he would treat Dreamers “with heart.” Meanwhile, in Congress, attempts to create a more permanent program for Dreamers are in the works, though they haven’t gotten much traction with DACA still in place.
Although DACA recipients aren’t considered a priority for deportation, they can be detained by ICE – and have their DACA revoked – if they fit any of the current priorities for deportation, such as being a gang member.
In the case of Daniel Ramirez Medina in Seattle, the DACA recipient was arrested when immigration officials came looking for his father. Ramirez has been detained for more than a month after officials accused him of being a gang member.
“That’s the wrinkle in his case,” said Mariam Kelly, senior immigration attorney and DACA program supervisor at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto.
Kelly said that in the past, her office was encouraging people to apply for DACA. Now, she said, they have put a pause on initial DACA filings.
For those who want to renew DACA, they are encouraging people to get an in-depth consultation with a qualified immigration attorney. Attorneys can go over the risks and the unknowns to help clients make informed decisions about whether to renew. For example, Kelly said, they ask whether the client has had contact with law enforcement -- before or since getting DACA. Any arrest, especially related to gangs, drugs or a DUI can have immigration consequences.
Immigration attorneys are not recommending that individuals apply for or travel under advance parole through DACA at this time.
Steps you can take now
Immigration experts say there are steps that all families can take to assert their rights and plan for the future.
First, get an immigration consultation with a qualified immigration attorney. This will help you to understand your legal options and see if you might be eligible for a more permanent immigration benefit. To avoid fraudulent service providers, go to a trusted community organization, make sure you confirm the attorney’s credentials and ask for a written contract and a receipt for any payments.
Second, know your rights. Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, has certain Constitutional rights. These include the right to remain silent, the right to not open the door to agents without a warrant signed by a judge, and to not sign anything they don’t understand or that isn’t true.
Third, make a plan. All families and individuals should have a plan in case of an emergency. Keep the number of a qualified immigration attorney with you, in case you need to call them. Have a plan for who would take care of your children or elders in your family if you are unable to. Let your children’s school know who is allowed to pick them up, and keep medical and emergency contact information on file so your family can access them.
Finally, Ruch said, communities should stay informed. “Arm yourself with information,” she said. “Talk amongst yourselves. Organize with your communities. Don’t let the fear rule you.”