September 8, 2017 / 9:22 PM / a year ago

'Dreamers' left confused about fine points of immigration program's end

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Days after President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Mayara Pena still has a lot of unanswered questions. One of them is about her cars.

FILE PHOTO - Alliance San Diego and other Pro-DACA supporters hold a protest rally, following U.S. President Donald Trump's DACA announcement, in front of San Diego County Administration Center in San Diego, California, U.S., September 5, 2017. REUTERS/John Gastaldo

In March, she leased a 2009 Honda for her personal use and a brand new 2017 Dodge van for the small construction business she owns. On Tuesday, Pena, who came to the United States from Brazil as a teenager, learned that her authorization to work and protection from deportation under DACA will lapse in 2019, before the car leases are up.

At that point, the social security number Pena used on the leases will no longer be valid. Moreover, Massachusetts, where the 29-year-old lives, will soon require proof of legal residency to obtain a driver’s license, and Pena worries what that will mean for her existing license – and for her car insurance.

In ending the program, Trump said he wants the Republican-controlled Congress to enact a permanent, nationwide solution to stabilize the lives of so-called Dreamers such as Pena, people brought to the United States illegally as children. But in the past, Republicans and Democrats in the deeply divided legislature have been unable to agree on the issue.

The administration has promised an “orderly” end to DACA, but program participants are finding it hard to get answers to their many questions about what exactly that means.

Although the program is federal, the fate of its nearly 800,000 participants will vary from state to state, with state policies determining whether or not they will be able to continue studying, receive financial aid, or even drive legally.

Many states do not yet know themselves what the program’s end will mean. More than a dozen state attorneys general and the University of California system are suing Trump in an effort to reinstate the program.

“I think it’s crazy because the government gave us chance to come out, they invited us to do that and now they are throwing us under the bus. It’s bad for the economy,” Pena said. “They are just putting us in the shadows again and we are not going to be able to grow.”


On Tuesday night, hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA, immigration attorney David Leopold held a 45-minute Facebook Live session in which he was overwhelmed by more than 200 questions and comments from people nervous about their futures.

    “What about those in college who don’t pay or pay very little with DACA?” one questioner asked.

    “I just received my approval” for a trip outside the country, another posted, “should I travel?”

    “How should we address this with our employers?” someone else asked.

    Leopold had to explain that many of the questions would require individual legal counseling or just could not be answered yet, as individual states, as well as universities and businesses, have not yet had time to evaluate the situation.

Some issues that fall under the federal government will be uniform in each state. Work authorization, for example, will be withdrawn for all. But on some matters, geography will count.

At least 18 states, for example, allow for in-state tuition rates for students living in the country illegally and a subset of those - California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington - allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid. 

Three states - Arizona, Georgia and Indiana - specifically prohibit in-state tuition rates for students without legal status, and two states - Alabama and South Carolina - do not let them enroll in any public postsecondary institution, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 


Jin Park, a 21-year-old senior at Harvard, has been in the United States since he was seven, when his South Korean family overstayed their tourist visas. He will lose his protections in August 2018.

    Park is now reevaluating his plans, including applying for a prestigious Rhodes scholarship, which would require him to study abroad. He fears he would not be let back into the United States after that.

He is also worried about his long-term goal of becoming a community doctor for the immigrant community in the New York City borough of Queens where he grew up. Park says he does not think he can do his final hospital training as a resident after medical school or be licensed as a physician if he no longer has a valid work permit. 

Stuart Heiser from the Association of American Medical Colleges said he has not yet heard about any guidance group members are giving current or prospective medical students.

“It is very crucial question that is just up in the air,” Park said.       

    For Pena in Massachusetts, meanwhile, some things seem clearer than others. Recently, she received pre-approval for a loan to buy a house. Her goal was to find a fixer-upper she and her husband would remodel. They have two U.S. citizen children.

Jin Park is pictured in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. in this November 11, 2016 handout photo obtained by Reuters September 8, 2016. Katie Borrazzo/Handout via REUTERS

But when her DACA expires and with it her right to work legally, she does not believe a lender will take a chance on her.

“I am not even looking anymore,” Pena said.

(For a graphic on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, click here)

Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Sue Horton and Grant McCool

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