West Michigan educators and at least one business group say the Trump administration’s plan to rescind the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program already is leading to anxiety and uncertainty.
The program, known as DACA, was created in 2012 by the Obama administration and allows children under the age of 16 who were brought to the U.S. illegally to stay in the country for work or school under lawful status. Roughly 780,000 DACA permits have been granted nationwide over the past five years.
But on Sept. 5, in an effort to end what he called an unconstitutional overreach by the Obama administration, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the program would be phased out. The Department of Homeland Security is no longer accepting applications, and will stop DACA renewals in six months, effectively ending the program. After losing authorization, DACA recipients would be forced out of jobs, while some states have said their driver’s licenses would be canceled.
President Trump has called on Congress to now come up with a solution in the next six months for this particular set of immigrants.
Nearly 6,400 DACA requests have reportedly been approved for immigrants in Michigan, while more than 7,400 renewal requests have been approved here, according to a report in Crain’s Detroit Business.
Universities and colleges across Michigan — including Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Valley Community College — have responded with resolutions of support for their DACA students and called for a legislative fix from Congress.
GRCC’s Faculty Council recently passed a resolution opposing the DACA decision and supporting the positions of the GRCC administration and Board of Trustees.
Frank Conner, president of GRCC’s Faculty Council, said one of the reasons the resolution was brought forward was in response to faculty hearing from students “a sense of confusion and fear of what might happen. It’s creating a high level of anxiety for the population.”
“While it may sound like a political statement and has a political underpinning, the absolute reasons for our resolution was to help our students,” Conner added.
BUSINESS GROUPS MUM?
Michigan business groups’ responses have been more guarded, even though rescinding DACA could potentially affect thousands of students and a broad range of employees across the state.
The Right Place Inc., a Grand Rapids-based economic development agency, said it would “work with whatever policy is in place,” but declined to comment further for this story. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. referred to Gov. Rick Snyder’s prepared statement, which said, in part, “Many are working toward success under the existing DACA, and for the certainty of their future Congress should act quickly to authorize and clarify their status.”
Officials with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the state Attorney General’s Office.
Andy Johnston, vice president of government and corporate affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said his group does not have an official position on the DACA program and this month’s announcement.
“The general sense we have is (the announcement) is now creating a sense of uncertainty and lack of predictability,” Johnston said. “We’re concerned with the impact it’s going to have on all sorts of businesses across the country. We’re hoping the administration and Congress will come together to find a legislative solution before the program expires.”
Meanwhile, some of the most well-known U.S. retail and technology companies have come out in support of the DACA program. They include Amazon, Apple, AT&T and Best Buy. As of Sept. 8, more than 400 companies had added their names to an open letter supporting DACA. They include General Motors and Detroit Chassis LLC, which does custom vehicle conversions across a broad spectrum of automotive industries.
Two major public companies in West Michigan — Zeeland-based Herman Miller Inc. (Nasdaq: MLHR) and Grand Rapids-based Steelcase Inc. (NYSE: SCS) — also issued statements in support of the program when asked by MiBiz for comment.
“Our core values revolve around inclusiveness and empowering individuals,” said Michael Ramirez, executive vice president of people, places, and administration at Herman Miller. “Rescinding the DACA program is not only counter to our beliefs, but it’s a sad step backwards for our nation. We believe all young people in this country deserve the opportunity to contribute to a productive society, and Dreamers are meaningful contributors. We encourage Congress and the President to support positive immigration reforms that help to pave a path for people to learn, grow, and positively contribute to their communities.”
Steelcase spokesperson Katie Woodruff referred to a statement from the Business Roundtable (BRT) — a group of CEOs from some of the largest companies in the U.S. advocating on policy issues — that “strongly opposes” rescinding DACA and calls on Congress and the Trump administration for a legislative fix. The BRT statement adds: “Failure to act would have a significant negative impact on businesses that rely on employees who are here and working lawfully.”
“As a member of BRT who is committed to diversity and attracting and retaining top global talent, we stand with this,” Woodruff said.
Kimberly Clarke, a partner at Varnum LLP who specializes in immigration law, said in many cases employers may recognize employees have work authorization under DACA but they “are not involved for the most part.”
“The real impact is there is potential now that employees who have been great will run out of work authorization when DACA ends,” Clarke said. “Employers may not have yet assessed how they will be impacted.”
More generally, Clarke said, it’s “difficult for employers to articulate their position” on immigration issues.
“It’s a constant struggle we have in the U.S. between authorized and unauthorized immigrants. It depends on how you view this particular subset to see which side they will be on,” she said. “A lot more employers and business owners are on the supportive side than most people think, but it’s hard to articulate that without getting criticism from the other side.”
INVESTING IN IMMIGRANTS
In 2012, Obama said DACA was a “temporary, stopgap measure” after Congress was unable to pass comprehensive immigration policy, such as the DREAM Act.
DACA was expanded in 2014, when the Obama administration also created Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).
According to a Sept. 5 Department of Homeland Security memo, the 2014 move directed the federal government “‘to establish a process, similar to DACA, for exercising prosecutorial discretion through the use of deferred action, on a case-by-case basis,’ to certain aliens who have ‘a son or daughter who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.’”
The DACA expansion and DAPA were challenged in federal court by opponents who said the orders were unconstitutional. In a 4-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed lower court rulings that the programs violated the Administrative Procedure Act. Unless the Trump administration ended the original DACA program by Sept. 5, those same opponents vowed to challenge the program under the same legal argument. Meanwhile, more than a dozen other states have now filed lawsuits against the Trump administration’s action.
Supporters of DACA recipients are now calling on Congress to pass the DREAM Act to protect those who are in the U.S. However, lawmakers would have to act by March 2018 before recipients start losing authorization to be in the country.
Clarke said Michigan is home to a “pretty wide path of individuals” who are part of the DACA program, from unskilled workers to highly trained and educated individuals who received higher education degrees here.
“We have invested in them with our education system, then we’re saying they can’t contribute,” Clarke said. “We are hearing of huge problems with recruiting skilled, educated workers (in Michigan). This would take a huge amount of workers out — employers will be in a tough position.”
GRCC’s Conner agreed.
“There are many different perspectives around immigration, but this is a very unique population of students. They come here when they are young. This is the life they know. They’ve committed themselves here and are investing in themselves and, in turn, the community,” Conner said.
“The data to me wouldn’t suggest they’re taking away jobs, they’re helping the (highly educated, skilled training) industry by filling in some niches that aren’t being filled now.”
As for the argument that DACA participants should simply apply for U.S. citizenship, Clarke said “that’s not an option for these individuals” and there are only a few “isolated” chances for doing so.
“There’s very, very few individuals who would qualify for the immigration path,” she said. “Once you’re here illegally, immigration law punishes anyone who is here illegally longer than six months. Even if employers had the position where they wanted them to go through the standard immigration process, individuals would then need to go back to their home country.”
“Our immigration system is broken,” Clarke added. “I’ve been doing this for 18 years now, and it’s been broken the entire time.”