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DACA Recipients Worry What The Government Will Do With Their Private Information

Gregory Bull

President Trump this week tweeted that young immigrants brought to this country illegally by their parents, also known as DREAMers, "have nothing to worry about."

But a lot of DREAMers aren't buying it. (DREAMer is a term derived from a proposed bill called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.) In fact, they say the Trump administration gave them a new headache with a veiled threat to use the personal information they gave the government to deport them.

Here's what happened.

Before his tweet, the Trump administration announced that it would end the Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in March unless Congress takes action to salvage it.

It would impact nearly 800,000 young immigrants brought to this country illegally by their parents.

Sheridan Aguirre, now 23, was just 1 year old when his mother brought him to the U.S. from Mexico. She wanted to reunite with her husband, an agricultural worker. Aguirre says she had always planned to return to Mexico, but something happened.

"My teachers noticed I was doing well in school, that I was excelling," he says.

So his mother decided to stay in the U.S.

Aguirre graduated at the top of his high school class and then earned a degree in filmmaking from the University of Texas. Today he's a leader in United We Dream, an advocacy group lobbying for permanent legal status for the DREAMers.

Aguirre says his family collectively decided to take the risk of enrolling him in DACA. It required giving the government information like addresses, photos, fingerprints and bank statements. Aguirre believed the government's assurances that his personal information wouldn't be used against him.

"They were telling me that my private information would be secure, that it would not be shared with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], Border Patrol, or any other agencies. So I did it with confidence," he says.

But Aguirre says that confidence was shaken by Trump's decision to end DACA.

"It's a scary situation. It really is."

Perhaps what frightens him the most is an online post by the Department of Homeland Security. It says that the personal information provided by DACA recipients won't be "proactively" shared with immigration enforcement agents. But there's an exception if a person "poses a risk to national security or public safety, or meets the criteria for the issuance of a Notice To Appear or a referral to ICE under the criteria." And it says the privacy policy can be modified or rescinded at any time without notice.

"What that means in plain English is when ICE wants to place someone in removal proceedings, it can ask for any information it wants to do that," says Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney in Washington, D.C., who worked in the Obama Justice Department. "And the administration has not denied this meaning."

Fresco says if DACA is ended and DREAMers lose their status, they would want to avoid any interaction with law enforcement because their likelihood of being detained and turned over to ICE would be very high.

Stephen Legomsky was chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when DACA was created back in 2012. He says the government didn't just give people a promise that their data would remain confidential. It also actively encouraged people to apply with that assurance.

"If it were to then turn around and say, 'Ha, gotcha, now we know where you live, we're coming out to deport you,' then there is at least a fair argument that fundamental fairness has been violated and that means there can be a due process challenge," Legomsky says.

That's an argument being made by 15 states and the District of Columbia in a lawsuit brought this week against the administration.

But Legomsky says a legal challenge may have to wait until the administration actually uses the information to help deport people.

If that day comes, Sheridan Aguirre says his family, including his U.S. citizen siblings, is prepared for when ICE comes knocking.

"If ICE were to come to our door, that they won't open the door, that they'll check to make sure that they have a warrant, that they're recording the situations. Because this is our home and we should feel safe in the places we grew up in," he says.

Aguirre compares it to a fire drill. He says there's strength in knowing he's done all he could do to face an uncertain future.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.