The Trump administration's decision to rescind protected immigration status for people who entered the U.S. illegally as children could leave companies with the difficult task of having to fire dedicated workers when the program ends, Detroit-area immigration attorneys said Tuesday.
That's because there are few avenues for young undocumented immigrants who obtained federal work permits under the the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to get legal status, the attorneys said, and companies are not allowed to employ anyone who is not authorized to work in the United States.
The full ramifications of the White House decision to phase out the DACA program within six months aren’t yet known. For now, employers are encouraged to review their employees’ I-9 forms and if they aren't already track the expiration dates of any DACA recipients' work permits, said Mike Nowlan, an attorney and co-leader of the immigration practice group for Clark Hill PLC in Detroit.
Nowlan said he thinks the Trump administration's decision to wind down the protected status program is “devastating” for the recipients and “will be disruptive for certain employers.”
President Barack Obama created the program through a 2012 executive order that shielded undocumented immigrants from deportation if they came to the United States before they turned 16. Opponents of the measure have said Obama overstepped his authority by creating the program without congressional approval and that it takes jobs away from American-born workers. Immigration advocates say protection from deportation is necessary for people who entered the country not of their own volition, many of whom grew up attending American schools and colleges and now have jobs and pay taxes.
Close to 800,000 people are believed to have DACA status nationwide. The program prevents recipients from being considered for deportation for two years, which can be renewed. To qualify, an immigrant may not have felony convictions or significant or multiple misdemeanor convictions.
To date, 6,430 initial requests for DACA status have been approved for immigrants living in Michigan, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. More than 7,400 renewal requests have been approved for the state.
The Trump administration has said requests received by Tuesday will be processed, but no new applications for DACA status will be accepted. Current recipients will be allowed to work until their authorization expires.
“What many of our employer clients have said is that these kids have been so hard-working, they've just been a great benefit to our economy, they're paying taxes, they're not committing crimes,” Nowlan said. “What do they do? Do they wait around to get deported? (The federal government) has all their contact information. ... These are people they can go and get. I don't know if they have the manpower to go collect 800,000 people.”
Aimee Guthat, a senior attorney focused on corporate immigration and compliance for Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy PLLC in Troy, said she would encourage employers to begin circulating information to all employees about recommended actions while avoiding running afoul of anti-discrimination laws by singling out employees the employer thinks may be DACA recipients, even if the intent is to help.
“It's probably going to be a much bigger hit than most employers expect,” Guthat said. “Try to disseminate as much credible information as possible. Provide sort of a one-source location that their employees can go to anonymously, if they prefer, to get the most recent updates. We'll be sending instructional materials to all of our clients as everything unfolds.”
Michigan's economy has benefited from the contributions of immigrants, according to a recent study by the Michigan Economic Center, an Ann Arbor-based think tank.
Legal foreign-born residents in Michigan have increased to about 650,000 over the past 15 years, while the state's native-born population has declined, the report found. And although immigrants make up just 6 percent of Michigan's population, they are 8 percent of all entrepreneurs, employing 150,000 people at 31,000 companies.
And it's not guaranteed that companies will be able to find American-born workers to fill the jobs of undocumented immigrants once their DACA status expires, Guthat said, if there are no candidates with specific skills in the local job market.
Other politicians weigh in
Politicians from both parties weighed in on the Trump administration's decision Tuesday.
Gov. Rick Snyder, in a statement, said Michigan is best when it is diverse.
“Many are working toward success under the existing DACA, and for the certainty of their future Congress should act quickly to authorize and clarify their status,” he said.
Agustin Arbulu, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said in a statement that he is concerned the decision to wind down DACA could lead to an increase in incidents of bias and discrimination on the basis of a person's legal status, race or ethnicity. The department is prepared to investigate any such incident, his statement said.
University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel recently told Bridge that the Ann Arbor-based university does not keep a list of students who have DACA status.
"Although we follow court orders, we don't do work on behalf of law enforcement agencies on campus," Schlissel said. “The idea is that all of our students can pursue their educational ambitions without outside worries.”
Some of Michigan's representatives in Congress are calling for federal legislative action to protect recipients, including U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township; Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak; Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; and Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.
“For these young men and women, the United States is their home,” Upton said in a statement.
“I’ve met with countless concerned individuals impacted by DACA and heard from local universities, restaurant and small business owners, as well as my farmer friends who all agree we must take care of these folks. This is why I've long-supported using a compassionate but accountable way to legislatively address these undocumented minors brought to our country through no fault of their own.
“Rather than executive order, it is the responsibility of Congress to work together on fair, rigorous and bipartisan legislation that addresses the long-term uncertainty facing these young people.”
Having Congress take action is the best possible outcome, said Nowlan, of Clark Hill.
Because DACA was authorized via an executive order outside of the traditional regulatory process, which is slower, it could be more difficult to raise legal challenges, he said. But, he added: “I've been amazed at the lawsuits that have been successful in the last year when I wouldn't have thought they'd have been able to do anything.”
Protests of the order quickly sprang up around metro Detroit and across the country this week, including about 200 people who gathered in the afternoon at Clark Park outside of Detroit's Western International High School in southwest Detroit.
State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who attended the Tuesday demonstration, said, "Not only are we concerned about the potential impact to the families and to the youth, but also to our economy. If we are pulling out potentially thousands of young people who are employed right now what does that mean for their employers, what does that mean for the things that they are making and the things that they are doing?"