Moab City Council passed a resolution supporting the extension of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, on Tuesday, Oct. 10. The action was one part of a wider community response to President Trump’s announcement that Congress would put the program on hold for review.
“I feel like part of our goal in providing for a healthy and strong economy is to stand up for all of our residents and I think this is an important part of supporting our core community,” said council member Rani Derasary.
On Sept. 5, the Trump administration ordered the DACA program to be phased out by March. Trump called on Congress to “legalize” the program before that time. Without the program, DACA recipients, sometimes known as “dreamers,” are at risk of deportation. They may also lose work permits and other benefits of the program.
“The [community] response has been just concern and anxiety and just stress about the future being so uncertain,” said Moab Valley Multicultural Center (MVMC) Director Rhiana Medina.
In response to the announcement, MVMC has stepped up its efforts to help DACA recipients, said Medina.
“It’s almost like a wildfire,” said one Moab resident and DACA recipient, who wished to remain anonymous out of concern for bias or negative reactions in the community.
“My mom called me and was like, oh my god, what are we going to do? What are you going to do? What is your next step? In my case, I’m married,” he said.
Though his marriage did not mean him getting papers, it does mean he has the opportunity to apply for citizenship if DACA is not renewed.
Medina said the MVMC relies on Catholic Community Services for credible information. Catholic Community Services provides weekly free consultations with an immigration attorney, she said. The MVMC also has ties to the Consulate of Mexico in Salt Lake City, which offers free legal services.
“The center has taken great effort to increase the resources that we have and quite importantly make sure the resources that we are sharing are from sources that we believe to be credible,” Medina said. “I think that it’s very important for us to tell everybody to remain calm, to remind them that we will be here for them no matter what the outcome is and … we’re not going to give them any information that doesn’t come from a source that’s credible, factual [and] researched. We need to remain apolitical and remember that we support and embrace our entire community and we don’t want to be painted in any way that would seem disrespectful to either side of something that seems to be super divisive so any answers to the questions I give you will be said in the best interest of humanitarian aid and social support.”
“I think DACA students are really important,” the DACA recipient said. “We were brought here by our parents, not because we were forced [but] because our parents wanted to give us a better future.”
Before DACA, the recipient said, he had a college degree but could only work illegally in restaurants.
“My heart, my passion was in the arts and I couldn’t do anything … It was not until President Obama announced this huge step … Once I got DACA on my end, I started working for a bank which changed my life,” he said. “I’ve seen so many bright stars coming out of DACA ... [after] the break out of this nightmare that he’s going to completely destroy it, it was a wildfire with the families. What are we going to do?
“When somebody gives you wings and you’re flying high, then somebody comes and cuts them off, to you and to your family it’s the end of the world,” he added.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has also spoken in favor of continuing the program.
“Like the president, I’ve long advocated for tougher enforcement of our existing immigration laws but we also need a workable, permanent solution for individuals who entered our country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here,” Hatch said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Utah Sen. Mike Lee called for balance.
“DACA was an illegal abuse of executive power, and it’s important to reaffirm that the president cannot unilaterally rewrite the law,” Lee said in an online statement. “Today’s decision puts the ball in Congress’ court to address the problem of the approximately three-quarter million DACA participants, who originally came to the country as children. A balance between compassion and deterring future illegal immigration can be found.”
In Moab, Medina said that MVMC is remaining positive.
“We are remaining hopeful that a decision will be made in the best humanitarian interest of the nearly 800,000 and some people that they estimate … will have a positive outcome and an opportunity to keep contributing.”