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After the Shutdown: Why DACA Architect Janet Napolitano Says It May Already Be Too Late For ‘Dreamer’ Students & Teachers

By Mark Keierleber | January 19, 2018

President of the University of California and former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano speaks during a forum Sept. 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

UPDATE, 1:30 p.m. January 21: Congressional leaders were unable to reach a deal on Friday, and the federal government officially shut down Saturday morning. Democrats, congressional Republicans, and President Trump continued to trade jabs through the weekend in a bid to assign blame for the closure. As of noon Sunday, senators were slated to vote again at 1 a.m. Monday on a proposal to reopen the government through February 8, possibly including an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and disaster aid for states hammered by hurricanes this fall, according to The Washington Post. The deal, though, doesn’t address protections for Dreamers, the young people brought to the country illegally as children, and it remained unclear if enough Democrats would vote for the bill to meet the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, Politico reported.

Should Congress fail to act by Friday to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — regardless of whether a short-term spending bill averts a government shutdown after midnight — a window to save “Dreamers” from potential deportation may slam shut.

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California System and one of DACA’s creators, was among a bipartisan trio of Department of Homeland Security secretaries that told Congress earlier this month they needed to act by January 19 if they wanted to save the program without causing major hiccups. Should lawmakers reach a legislative fix after the 19th, it’s likely thousands of recipients will see a lapse in DACA services even if a replacement is approved before the program ends in March.

“The realistic deadline for successfully establishing a Dreamers program in time to prevent large scale loss of work authorization and deportation is only weeks away, in the middle of January,” according to the letter, which was sent to congressional leadership from Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, who served as homeland security secretaries under President Barack Obama, and Michael Chertoff, who served in the same role under President George W. Bush.

Napolitano is also suing the Trump administration in an effort to keep the program alive.

Implemented by the Obama administration in 2012, DACA has granted work permits and deportation relief to some 800,000 undocumented immigrants, commonly referred to as Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. as young children by their parents. The Trump administration announced last fall it would phase out the program in six months — giving Congress until March 5 to reach a more permanent solution.

After a months-long stalemate in Congress, Democratic leaders maintained as late as Friday evening that they’re willing to force a government shutdown should immigration reform be absent from the budget bill. But just this week, negotiations have hit several roadblocks. On Wednesday, for example, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus the president’s campaign demands for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border were “uninformed,” which prompted an early-morning Twitter rebuttal from Trump.

Ahead of impending shutdown, the House approved a stopgap spending bill late Thursday to keep the government open through February 16. On Friday the White House maintained there is “no emergency” because Congress has until that deadline to act, but by 5 p.m. Friday evening, President Trump and congressional leaders were still scrambling to avert shutdown. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, met with Trump at the White House in the afternoon, where they made “some progress” but disagreements remained.

Beyond the thousands of students who are DACA recipients — or are the children of program beneficiaries — an estimated 20,000 are teachers, including Ivonne Orozco, a Spanish teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who recently was named state Teacher of the Year for 2018.

About 190 Teach for America educators and alumni are DACA recipients, serving roughly 10,000 students in 11 states, said Viridiana Carrizales, the nonprofit’s managing director of DACA Corps Member Support. Without new legislation, DACA status will expire for several TFA teachers in April, she said. Amid uncertainty, they’re already preparing for life without work authorization and deportation relief. Likewise, school principals and human resources officials have started to ask recipients if they plan to return next year.

“Even with DACA, we had teachers who experienced a delay in their approval, and it caused some of our teachers to be without a job for a month or two months until their work permit was approved,” Carrizales said. “So they have already, even through DACA, experienced what it could be for them to have another gap. I think the difference [now] is we don’t know how long that gap will be.”

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In the letter to Congress, the former Homeland Security secretaries said lawmakers must move speedily on a legislative fix to meet “significant administrative requirements of implementation.” When DACA launched in 2012, it took the government 90 days to approve the first applications. Any new program, they wrote, must allow adequate time to process applications.

Approving a new system by Jan. 19, they noted, would allow only 45 days for implementation before March 5, when an estimated 1,200 people will lose DACA benefits each day.

“Not only is there no reason to delay, but establishing this new program in 45 days would be an incredible accomplishment done in record time,” they wrote. “This means Congress must act by the middle of January to ensure a successful program, avoid significant hardship for [U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services], the business community, and Dreamers themselves.”

Carrizales said Friday afternoon she was disappointed Congress has so far failed to find a solution, noting lawmakers spent more time avoiding a shutdown “than actually putting pen to paper and making something happen.”

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, who is himself an immigrant, offered a similar sentiment on Twitter Friday.

Even as Congress debates a legislative fix, Napolitano has also sought relief for Dreamers through the courts, filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration in September on behalf of DACA recipients at the university system she leads. Last week, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a temporary injunction, requiring the Trump administration to keep DACA in place until lawsuits spurred by the decision — including one filed by a TFA teacher — make their way through the courts.

On Thursday, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to review the district court’s injunction, a ruling Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “defies both law and common sense” because of its national reach. The DACA program, Sessions said in a statement, had been implemented “unilaterally by the last administration after Congress rejected similar legislative proposals.”

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Secretaries Napolitano, Johnson, and Chertoff declined to comment for this story. In a statement Friday, a University of California spokeswoman said the institution will continue to push for legislation that benefits their students. While the injunction allows recipients to stay for now, the spokeswoman said, “fear and uncertainty persist for DACA recipients across California and the nation who want to continue to live, work, learn and contribute to the country they know as home. It does not negate, nor lessen, the urgent need for permanent protection through a legislative solution.”

While expressing remorse that Congress has so far failed to act, TFA’s Carrizales said she doesn’t plan to give up.

“I personally started advocating for this back in 2006, and have been on this for the past 12 years,” she said. “Even if there’s a shutdown and something does not happen this Friday, it will never stop our advocacy efforts, it will never stop that fire that we have within us to fight for what is right.”

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