An Arkansas immigrant rights coalition is organizing community meetings, a protest at the state capitol and a 24-hour hunger strike following the federal repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy better known as DACA.
Meanwhile, state officials, from Gov. Asa Hutchinson to U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford (R-1st District) called DACA an unconstitutional executive action leftover from the previous administration of Barack Obama.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions Tuesday announced the Trump Administration's intention to end DACA, an Obama-era program, created by executive order in 2012. The executive branch and President Donald Trump is giving the legislative branch six months to adopt a version of DACA, or legislation that gives young undocumented children of immigrants legal status to attend university and work a job, before it rolls it back completely.
That would leave as many as 800,000 residents, according to the administration's own estimates, including roughly 10,000 Arkansans, vulnerable to reduced freedoms, up to and including deportation.
Mariela Valeriano is a 21-year-old mother who has been able to get a job through DACA. She spoke Tuesday at a press conference held by the Arkansas United Community Coalition in Little Rock about the possibility of losing her job or being deported.
“Some of us have kids that we use DACA to support with. Some of us go to college. We pay taxes. We keep a clean record. It’s just so unfair that after they have given us wings to fly and start our dreams, they’re just cut off.”
So called “dreamers” like Valeriano who’ve grown up on U.S. soil do not receive federal benefits and must pay out-of-state tuition for college.
They also pay fines and fees to re-enroll in the program every two years.
Mariana Oropeza is a 19-year-old studying office administration. Her residency status through DACA allows her to be part of a Little Rock job corps program, she says, and losing it will hurt the whole community.
“There are a lot of Hispanics in this job corps and just, it’s going to be really hard for us to be able to complete our dreams and have a better future.”
Central Arkansas organizer for the coalition Maria Meneses is a 21-year-old biology pre-med major at Philander Smith College in Little Rock.
She says they have reached out for support to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge but have not gotten it.
“We gave her [Rutledge] our stories and she was not interested in that at all, whatsoever. Instead she was more interested in what her colleagues had to say about this matter.”
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge signed on to a lawsuit earlier this summer with 10 other states to end the program.
In a statement, the governor said Tuesday, “The issue is squarely back in the hands of Congress, and reform of our immigration laws is long overdue.”
Arkansas’s junior Sen. Tom Cotton applauded the decision on the Hugh Hewitt Radio show.
He says he doesn’t want to deport all 800,000 potentially impacted young people, but “I’m not going to support just a blanket amnesty with nothing to control the consequences of it.”
Cotton says he will support efforts in Congress to create some kind of more limited legal status for undocumented young people raised in the U.S., provided it's accompanied by a surge of money and security personnel along the country's southern border, as well as stricter enforcement of immigration penalties in the country as a whole.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed earlier in the day that DACA was behind the rise of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the U.S. back in 2014.
“The effect of this unilateral, executive amnesty among other things, contributed to a surge of minors at the Southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.”
The hunger strike is scheduled for Wednesday evening until Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
Meneses says legal clinics will be assisting with DACA renewals through early October.
The repeal will not take effect for at least six months, Sessions promised.
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.