Politics & Government

California has a tip for Dreamers: Act now while the feds can’t stop you

The head of California’s university system and the state’s top lawyer sent a message to Dreamers on Wednesday: File your DACA papers now, we’ll help.

“Enroll now, reapply now,” said Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, at a press event with state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Napolitano was speaking to some of the 200,000 Californians who hold temporary legal residency in the United States through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, aimed at people brought illegally across the border as children. There are about 800,000 so-called Dreamers in the U.S., and California has the largest population.

Napolitano and Becerra are pushing those Dreamers to take advantage of an unexpected window of opportunity that allows them to reapply for the program after the federal government announced its phase-out in September and said it would end in March.

The program granted some Dreamers two-year renewable permits to live, work and study in the U.S. Applying now could give some another two years of temporary status. There are more than 70,000 Dreamers attending community colleges in California, 8,000 in state universities and about 4,000 in the UC system. About 5,900 DACA recipients live in the Sacramento area.

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the state’s community college system who also spoke at the Wednesday event, said students could seek financial and legal resources from their schools to help with the application, which costs $495 to file.

Oakley said California’s education institutions wanted to assure Dreamers that “they are welcome in California.”

“They live with the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to happen to their brother, to their sister, their grandfather, their grandmother, their mother and their father,” Oakley said. “And then they come to school every single day not knowing if on the way to school they are going to be detained. This is no way to treat human beings.”

Sacramento Dreamer Jesus Limon Guzman, 32, said that while his DACA status has been renewed, he and others are living in a heightened state of fear, causing some to avoid school and work.

Guzman, an English teacher at Sacramento City College who was brought to the United States at age 8, said “many in the Latin community are afraid of deportation, and a lot of community members are not signing up for college any more. We are losing students because they don’t know if their college application (will) lead to them being tracked down.”

Guzman, who said he has gone to Washington D.C. to lobby for immigration reform, said: “I’m on tenure track at the college and want to start a family but my life is on pause.”

California also has put money aside to help DACA recipients and other undocumented residents. This year’s proposed state budget has $45 million for immigration legal assistance, and an additional $3 million to help unaccompanied undocumented minors.

“I do think just breaking up families like that is callous. It’s very insensitive and I can’t believe that it will really be carried through,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a recent budget press conference when discussing those funds. “There’s a strong group that calls for it, but I think the majority of Californians and Americans are more sympathetic to people who have done well and have contributed during their stay in America.”

In Sacramento, city officials set aside $300,000 last year to fund non-profits that provide legal services and education.

The push to get California Dreamers to do their paperwork comes about a week after Becerra, Napolitano and others won an injunction from a federal District Court that forced the government to reopen the program to some whose permits had expired or will soon do so.

“That means DACA is resuscitated as of now ... as if there had not been an announcement on Sept. 5, (2017),” canceling the program, said Napolitano.

On Tuesday, the federal government announced its intention not only to appeal the injunction, but to attempt to jump the issue past the 9th Circuit, the California appeals court that President Donald Trump dislikes, and instead take the issue directly to the Supreme Court.

Napolitano, who helped create the DACA program while serving as the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security under former President Barack Obama, said she believes the federal government shouldn’t be allowed to bypass the normal appeals process – a move federal lawyers described as a “rare step” during their announcement Tuesday.

“In a way, it’s of a piece with the decision to rescind DACA in the first place: highly irregular and certainly something that we will contest,” Napolitano said. “I don’t see any reason to avoid the normal appellate process.”

Napolitano also took issue with the contention that the Deferred Action program was illegal to begin with and an overreach of presidential power, as many critics claim.

“When I hear claims that DACA was illegal and ... an abuse of the executive power, the hairs on my neck do go up a bit because we were very careful in crafting DACA,” Napolitanto said. “It complies with federal law. It complies with Supreme Court precedent and it complies with our values as a country.”

Both Becerra and Napolitano said despite their litigation, the real fix must take place in Congress. Trump and U.S. lawmakers have been involved in heated and unsuccessful negotiations over the issue for weeks, with the goal of including a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers in the budget bill that must be passed by Friday. That effort seemed in disarray Wednesday.

Becerra also addressed media reports that warned of a massive immigration raid in Northern California in coming weeks. While immigration authorities have declined to give details, the acting head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently threatened California with a crackdown after the state enacted a sanctuary policy, SB54, at the start of the year that curtails law enforcement interaction with immigration authorities.

“Donald Trump should not ask us to be a deportation force for his immigration enforcement activities,” said Becerra. “We are not in the business of deportation. We are in the business of public safety.”

Sacramento Bee reporter Chris Cadelago contributed to this report. Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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