The Feds Promised To Protect Dreamer Data. Now What?


ERIKA ANDIOLA FELT uneasy as she handed over a stack of personally identifying information to the federal government back in 2012, allowing them to photograph her and take her fingerprint. As an undocumented immigrant who came to the US from Mexico when she was a kid, Andiola had been trained to keep a low profile. Now here she was, sharing her home address, her height, her weight, and her phone number, among other details, all in order to receive protection from deportation under an Obama-era policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. If she submitted her application and got accepted, Andiola would become a so-called Dreamer. And so she took a leap of faith. What’s more, as an immigrant rights activist, she encouraged others to do it too.

“It was a different time,” Andiola says.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s long-awaited decision to begin a “wind down” of DACA. This move toward expelling nearly 800,000 Dreamers is the fulfillment of President Trump’s campaign trail promise—and Andiola’s worst fears. Now, unless Congress acts to save the policy, Andiola and others worry that the same database that once secured her freedom could be used instead to take that freedom away. “It’s definitely one of the bigger fears for a lot of us,” Andiola says. “That includes not just putting ourselves in a vulnerable position but also putting our families in danger.”

President Obama introducedDACA in 2012 through executive action. The policy advised immigration enforcement agencies not to prioritize DACA recipients for deportation and set up a framework through which they could receive work permits. But in order to qualify, potential Dreamers had to pass a rigorous application process to ensure they met the policy’s eligibility requirements with regard to their age, criminal record, and educational backgrounds. The data Andiola and others handed over helped US Citizenship and Immigration Services filter those applications.

When the Obama administration was designing DACA, privacy was a chief concern for immigration advocates, who worried about having undocumented immigrants identify themselves to the government. So USCIS vowed it would wall off that data, protecting it from other agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that wanted to use it for deportation purposes. But because DACA was merely a policy, not a law, even the framers of this process knew full well that that promise to Dreamers was not binding.

“We knew that another administration could come in and either decide to rescind the DACA program itself or make different decisions about information sharing,” says Tyler Moran, who served on the White House Domestic Policy Council for immigration when DACA was being drafted. “I guess this is the worst-case scenario now.”

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