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Undocumented youth protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, will meet in Washington, D.C., Friday, facing the possibility that the Trump administration may cancel the Obama-era program that protects nearly 800,000 young people from deportation.
"We have known for a long time that DACA was at risk," Sheridan Aguirre of United We Dream told Univision News. "Now it is very important that lawmakers in both chambers of Congress take action to protect DACA, and ensure that thousands of young people can continue to live in the United States."
Alarm bells went off around noon Wednesday after a closed-door meeting between Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss the future of DACA, as well as other immigration-related topics.
Following the hour-long meeting, members of congress warned that the Trump government is not likely to halt its aggressive deportation policy.
"I think we have to prepare for the worst," said Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), shortly after the Capitol meeting. "I think we have to worry about fighting mass deportation."
He said authorities are setting their sights on DACA and the Temporary protected status (TPS) program, which could also be canceled. Together the programs halt thousands of deportations and grant work permits.
Gutierrez said the future of the nearly 800,000 DACA beneficiaries, known as dreamers, is up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “America’s leading advocate against immigration.”
In June, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with nine state attorneys general and the governor of Idaho, urged the Trump administration to cancel DACA. In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the officials - all Republican - threatened to sue in court over the immigration program if the the Trump administration doesn’t take action by September 5.
On Thursday, United We Dream recalled that a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill in January known as the ‘Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow Our Economy Act,’ or BRIDGE Act, which proposes to grant dreamers permanent legal status.
The initiative was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), while representatives Gutiérrez and Mike Coffman (R-Co.) brought it to the House.
The plan would protect undocumented young people brought to the United States as children while the legislature considers comprehensive immigration reform.
But the project remains stalled due to lack of bipartisan support to guarantee the minimum necessary votes, 218 in the House of Representatives and 60 in the Senate.
Erica Andiola, a dreamer protected by the program since its inception in June 2012, said she thinks the government is trying to push through whatever anti-immigrant legislation it can. “President Trump is accelerating his deportation force at the expense of dreamers, but we must continue to fight to protect DACA,” she said, adding that “it’s not the time to panic.”
DACA by the numbers
DACA protects about 788,000 dreamers, according to data from the Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The program prevents deportation and grants renewable employment authorization every two years. As of 2017, some 36,000 youths have qualified to receive DACA protection, and the federal agency has authorized 211,000 renewals.
Most recipients of the program are immigrants from Mexico, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. They live mainly in California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida.
Dreamers covered by DACA pay about $2 billion in taxes each year, according to data from the Institute for Economic Policy and Control (ITEP).
Jessica Weiss contributed to this article.