On Tuesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Thomas Homan told members of Congress
that, if you're an undocumented immigrant living in the United States, "you should be uncomfortable, should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried."
The vague threat dropped the same week as advocates for immigrant rights celebrated the five-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave thousands of undocumented people who were brought to the country as children the chance to attend school or legally work without fear of deportation.
Homan's announcement, like many following President Donald Trump's inauguration, is of particular concern to DACA recipients unsure if, or for how long, ICE will recognize their temporary legal status.
They have good reason to be nervous. Less than a month after Trump entered the White House, ICE picked up 19-year-old DACA recipient Josue Romero
from the Bexar County jail after being held for a minor pot possession. Intense media coverage and community protest followed. Romero was already in a van on his way to a South Texas immigrant detention center when ICE officials changed their mind, turned the vehicle around and released Romero. His lawyers credit a letter from Congressman Lloyd Doggett to top ICE officials for triggering this eleventh-hour decision. Josue is still unsure if his DACA status will be renewed later this year.
A day after Josue's release, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro tried to ease DACA students' concerns
, saying that in a closed-door meeting with Homan on Capitol Hill, the ICE director guaranteed DACA recipients weren't under threat by the administration's new immigration policies. "He made clear they weren't going after DACA folks," he told reporters at the time.
But this time around, Homan didn't qualify his statement with any DACA protections, simply warning that "no population is off the table" for consideration of deportation. And he asked for a $1.2 billion increase
to an already-expanded department budget.
Denise Gilman, immigration law professor at the University of Texas, said Homan's comments are in line with Trump's executive orders, but she doubts that ICE will specifically target DACA students and workers. After all, communities benefits greatly by having young people work, attend school, and "contribute to the fabric of our society."
Gilman says that DACA has always been a tricky, temporary solution, and that anyone currently shielded from deportation by the policy should avoid any criminal activity and renew their paperwork well ahead of the two-year expiration. Those with good standing, she says, "should continue to be lower on the list of priorities for who gets picked up."
Update 6/16/17 @ 11am:
Late Thursday, the Trump administration formerly eliminated an Obama-era program aimed at protecting undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. The program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), would have functioned like DACA, allowing non-citizens with a good track record temporary relief from deportation. However, DAPA never went into effect after a federal judge in Texas blocked the program.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelley killed the program signing off on a memorandum. He said in a press release that the decision was made "because there is no credible path forward to litigate the currently enjoined policy."
At the same time, Kelley also confirmed that the DACA program would stay in effect.