In Berkshires, relief — and wariness — on judge's DACA ruling

U.S. District Judge John Bates called the government's September 2017 decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program with a six-month delay "virtually unexplained" and therefore "unlawful," according to The Washington Post.

Young immigrants thrust into uncertainty regarding their status with the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could once again have that stopgap measure for some relief.

But it's far from enough either way.

That was how immigration advocates in Berkshire County described the Tuesday decision by a Washington federal judge ordering the government to continue the Obama-era DACA program, which offers protection against deportation for certain young immigrants.

U.S. District Judge John Bates called the government's September 2017 decision to rescind DACA with a six-month delay "virtually unexplained" and therefore "unlawful," according to The Washington Post.

Bates stayed his ruling for 90 days to give the Department of Homeland Security a chance to provide stronger reasoning for ending DACA.

If no better explanation comes, Bates will rescind the government memo that terminated the program and require the Department of Homeland Security to enroll new applicants as well, according to The Post.

Thousands could be eligible to apply.

It's great to hear confirmation that the government's decision to end the DACA program was unlawful, said Brooke Mead, executive director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center.

But there's still cause for wariness.

"In the short term, we have to watch what happens during the next 90 days," she said.

She added that DACA is a merry-go-round — at best, it only provides people protection from removal for two-year periods at a time.

"[It's] important to understand — this is not a solution," she said. A solution would look something like clear congressional action.

"It's past time that we have a solution," Mead said. "Anything that happens in terms of the DACA program is just a Band-Aid."

DACA began in 2012 under President Barack Obama as a stopgap measure to protect some young immigrants from deportation. The program offers deferred removal action of two years for those selected, and enables recipients to work and drive legally, although it does not confer legal status. Recipients, as noncitizens, are not eligible to vote.

Before Tuesday's decision, federal judges in New York and California also had ordered the government to renew work permits for immigrants enrolled in the program.

But no matter what happens with DACA, the program still comes with risks to the immigrant community, Mead said.

"There are no guarantees with this program," she said.

Since the beginning of the program, immigrants throughout the country, including the Berkshires, have had to consider that the vital information they provided in the application process could be used to target them, Mead said.

There have recently been instances of people with DACA being detained, she said.

"We're not sure how many people are going to come out of the shadows [now] to register themselves with the federal government," she said.

Since January, Mead has had a couple of clients decide not to file renewal applications for DACA. Part of that was because of money — it costs almost $500 to apply for renewal.

And part of it was fear.

There are DACA recipients living in Berkshire County, and the program affects not just the recipients, but their families, too.

"I definitely feel like it affects hundreds of people in the county," Mead said.

Joseph Best, an attorney with the immigration law group Best & Associates, also calls DACA a "Band-Aid" policy.

"Any opportunity to get additional forms of deferred action for people is great," he said. "[But] we need, and the country needs, a permanent solution — actual legislation from Congress."

The people who receive DACA are citizens of the United States in every way but having legal documents saying so, he said.

"They don't know any other country," he said. "This is their home."

Some people say that those with DACA must be held accountable for coming into the country illegally, Best said.

But only in immigration conversations is there ever a question of holding someone accountable for something they did as a child, he said.

"In this weird case, they're saying that a [child] is liable in an immigration context," he said. "It's very unique. And unreasonable."

Best and other immigration attorneys have been dealing with other serious issues with immigration enforcement, beyond uncertainty surrounding DACA.

"It's not just about DACA," Best said. "Homeland Security is now violating all kinds of norms of operations that we typically had."

Namely, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested people at interviews and when they show up for family court.

There also have been incidents of arrests of immigrants as they left a church shelter, and as they dropped children off at school, according to a March 2018 report of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, "Cogs in the Deportation Machine."

"Immigrants are rightly concerned," Best said.

As members of a large professional organization, attorneys in the American Immigration Lawyers Association talk to each other. They're seeing changes countrywide in how cases are handled, Best said.

Specifically, immigration attorneys are fielding more requests for more proof of things like an immigrant's marriage, even if proof already has been provided.

"It's as if they're literally just trying to throw sand into the machine to make it go as slowly as possible," Best said. "Think of how many lives that affects."

Delays directly impact people's lives, livelihoods and businesses.

It's a really big deal," Best said. "It's not just a minor inconvenience."

Best said he had a client coming in Wednesday who was dealing with this same practice. He has been married four years and is seeking to become a naturalized citizen. But more evidence is being demanded to prove he is married, even though evidence already was provided.

"This is happening across the country," Best said. "It's an unspoken policy."

The policy is intentionally punitive and intended to show President Donald Trump's political base that he is tough on immigration, Best said.

"These are dark days."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.