BROOKLYN — Almost as soon as the Trump administration on Tuesday announced the end of DACA, the Obama-era executive action prohibiting deportation of young undocumented immigrants brought here as children, a legal action was filed in response in the Eastern District of New York — the same Brooklyn court that dealt the first blow to President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban.
Trump called on Congress to come up with new legislation to replace DACA — which currently covers nearly 800,000 otherwise undocumented immigrants — before he phases it out on March 5. However, his tweet Tuesday evening at 8:38 p.m. indicated he may again modify his plans: "Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!"
Meanwhile, the legal team for Martin Batalla Vidal and the advocacy group Make the Road By Walking, took immediate action, firing off a letter to amend a federal lawsuit filed in 2016 to add claims arguing that Trump’s actions violate federal law and the equal protection guaranteed under the Constitution.
The reasoning behind the new announcement, they said, appeared to be arbitrary and capricious and seemed to be motivated by unconstitutional prejudice of Latino immigrants from a president who has, among other things, labeled Mexican immigrants as gang members and rapists.
Their claims — which seek to add class allegations and could affect millions across the nation — are similar to the ones that threw a wrench in Trump’s Muslim travel ban in January, they said. And just as the Muslim travel ban brought New Yorkers out to the streets to protest, the DACA announcement spurred rallies, including one in Foley Square on Tuesday evening.
Batalla Vidal, who grew up in Bushwick and worked at a catering company and as a cleaner at New York Sports Club, initially filed the lawsuit in Brooklyn claiming that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services illegally revoked his work permit based on a 2015 ruling from a federal judge in Texas halting Obama’s expansion of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that he believed should not apply to those in New York.
Batalla Vidal, who came to New York from Mexico when he was 7, got his three-year work permit the day after the Texas decision, but three months later was asked to return it because of the ruling, saying he could only work in the country for two years.
The 26-year-old, who now lives in Ridgewood and works in a nursing home and rehabilitation center, financially supporting his mother, is fighting the change along with Make the Road, which has many members, including staffers, with DACA applications that remain outstanding. The advocacy group stands to lose significant staff resources as many of them rely on DACA to be able to work there, the organization said.
“DACA has changed my life,” said Batalla Vidal, outlining how losing it would prevent him from following his academic and professional goals, make him unable to work here legally and put him at risk of deportation.
Though DACA recipients are often called "Dreamers," Batalla Vidal said it's their parents who are the dreamers — leaving everything behind as they dream of a better future for their children.
“This decision by Donald Trump is a direct attack on immigrant youth like me and on our families,” he added, “and it’s based on one thing: the racist beliefs of a president who has been attacking Latinos and Mexicans since the first day of his campaign.”
Batalla Vidal’s legal team, from Make the Road, the National Immigration Law Center and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, said the new announcement violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
David Chen, a law student intern at the Yale Law School center, said the government failed to provide a reasoned explanation for reversing DACA, which millions of people have relied on over the past five years, including the recipients who have disclosed sensitive information to participate, as well as their employees, families and communities.
The president’s move also could be motivated by anti-Mexican and anti-Latino feelings, revealed by Trump’s consistent anti-Mexican statements, Chen said. He believes those statements demonstrated an intent to discriminate against Mexican and Latino individuals, who will be overwhelmingly affected by Tuesday’s announcement.
Trump’s presidential campaign kicked off in 2015 with a speech in which he said, “[w]hen Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. ... They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
“I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday. “But we must also recognize that we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”
New York State protects more than 50,000 DACA recipients, which is one of the largest populations in the nation, according to the New York City Immigration Coalition.
Repealing DACA will significantly harm the local economy, the group noted. DACA recipients pay more than $140 million in state and local taxes and contribute nearly $2.6 billion to New York’s annual GDP.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, surrounded at a Tuesday press conference by the city’s movers and shakers, such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Rev. Al Sharpton and American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten, said that the city’s 30,000 DACA recipients are now in limbo, including city government workers.
“This is a day of heartbreak for so many. It’s a terrifying moment for so many to wonder whether they’ll be allowed to stay in the only country they’ve known,” he said, reminding Dreamers they will have full access to schools, hospitals and all city services and that the NYPD will never act as a “deportation force" or ask for immigration status.
“I have a message to President Trump: Don’t mess with your fellow New Yorkers,” he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said they will sue the president if Trump ends DACA.
“President Trump's decision to end the DACA program would be cruel, gratuitous, and devastating to tens of thousands of New Yorkers — and I will sue to protect them,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Dreamers are Americans in every way. They played by the rules. They pay their taxes. And they've earned the right to stay.”