DACA recipients in Clark County react to plan to eliminate program

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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Javier Morales-Hernandez is scrambling for answers.

What’s next for his education, the 24-year-old Vancouver man wonders out loud. What about his work permit? And what about family?

Morales-Hernandez, an administrative assistant for the Washington State Department of Transportation, is a Dreamer — one of the 800,000 people admitted to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that granted work permits and two-years of protection from deportation for children who entered the United States illegally.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it would eliminate the program in six months. The Department of Homeland Security will not process new applications for the program, and will consider renewal requests accepted by Oct. 5.

“This is my first time having (DACA), and now they take it away,” said Morales-Hernandez, who first received the protection two years ago. He’s now been in the United States for 12 years. “I’ve stayed out of trouble. I’m helping people. I’m trying to help the community. Now I’m having to deal with this again.”

The reaction in the state of Washington, where U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates there are roughly 17,000 Dreamers, was swift. Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he’ll sue the Trump administration over the decision to end DACA, an act he said was “a dark time for our country.”

Ferguson, who earlier this year sued Trump over the travel ban affecting several Muslim-majority nations, said at a news conference he would file a lawsuit “very soon.” The attorneys general from New York and California made similar announcements signaling their plans to sue.

Organizations supporting immigrants held press conferences across the state while others held rallies and marches in support of the program. In Vancouver, members of the local League of United Latin American Citizens urged Congress — and singled out U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground — to pass legislation that would create a path to permanent residence for minors.

“The President has yet again acted as a catalyst for widespread fear in local communities and across the country,” said Diana Perez, a Vancouver woman and Washington state director of LULAC. Ending the program, she added, demonstrates Trump’s “moral bankruptcy, sending a clear message that this administration does not care about communities of color.”

Herrera Beutler released a statement Tuesday calling for Congress to “provide permanent relief” to DACA recipients.

“I believe we can uphold national security, protect opportunities for American citizens, and provide assurances to DACA recipients in Southwest Washington who have done nothing wrong that we understand their plight and that they can build a future here in the only country that many of them have ever known,” Herrera Beutler said in the statement.

Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, both in a news release and through a representative at LULAC’s press conference, said it is “truly a sad day for our country.”

“Once again, President Trump has let the voices of division and hate win the day in the White House, defying all common sense or compassion,” she said, calling for a “permanent solution” that would allow Dreamers to stay in the United States.

Morales-Hernandez’s work permit is slated to expire at the end of February — days before the program is set to expire on March 5. He should still be able to renew his DACA registration if he submits his renewal paperwork in the allowed window by the Department of Homeland Security.

Nonetheless, Morales-Hernandez has “every worst-case scenario” running through his head.

“I haven’t been (in Mexico) for 12 years,” he said. “I grew up here. I know how things work in the United States. I’m lucky to have a great job right now, a good paying job, that’s given me tons of opportunities every day.”

Morales-Hernandez hopes to go to college to become an engineer — an option he worries won’t exist for him in Mexico.

“That’s what my hope was for,” he said. “If I go to Mexico, what kind of job can I get? I don’t know what the opportunities are.”

Despite the stress, Morales-Hernandez said he’s grateful to his parents, who brought he and his family to the United States 12 years ago to build a better future for their children after his father struggled to find adequate work in Mexico.

“If I get deported, I’m grateful that I have these skills and hope I can apply them over there,” he said. “I’ve had a great life, thanks to them.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.