Nevada leaders speak out as Trump administration moves to phase out DACA protections for young immigrants

A program that has shielded more than 13,000 young immigrants in Nevada from deportation will be phased out, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday.

The move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is a blow for local youth who were brought to the country illegally as children but who came out from the shadows over the past few years when the Obama Administration offered them legal status and work permits. While even President Donald Trump expressed empathy for so-called DREAMers and delayed what he acknowledged was a very tough decision, conservatives who challenged the legality of President Barack Obama’s unilateral action won out.

“We can’t admit everyone that wants to come here,” Sessions said in a press conference, adding that DACA was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

Trump echoed those comments in a statement published by the White House on Tuesday, saying the process would give way for an “orderly transition and wind-down” of the program and saying “It is now time for Congress to act!”

The Trump Administration will stop processing new applications for the DACA program, which currently covers more than 750,000 people nationwide. But it will give Congress six months to develop a legislative solution to the DREAMers’ plight before it stops renewing permits for current beneficiaries.

In a memorandum published Monday morning, Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Elaine Duke said the department would reject all new initial DACA applications but would adjudicate on an “individual, case by case basis” any applications for pending requests filed before Monday and any renewal requests for beneficiaries set to expire before the March deadline by October 5.  

Reaction to the decision was swift. Here’s what Nevada leaders are saying about the move — and an overview of their positions in the past.

Local and state officials:

Gov. Brian Sandoval

In a statement sent Monday, Sandoval said he supports DACA and noted that he has signed several bills into law allowing program beneficiaries to become licensed teachers and earn a driver’s license, and said he hoped the state’s congressional delegation would recognize the “urgency of the moment” and act to save the program.

“They’re our neighbors, friends, and the familiar faces at the grocery store. They are Nevadans,” he said in a statement. “While the State has taken many actions to embrace and ensure equal opportunities for DACA recipients, a solution requires Congressional action. I am hopeful that Nevada’s federal delegation will recognize the urgency of the moment and fight for the thousands of Nevadans who are living happier lives and contributing to our state’s recovery. Congress must act in order to preserve this program and reform and stabilize our nation’s immigration system.

State lawmakers:

Democratic lawmakers largely denounced the decision to end the program. State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, the former political director of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 who made headlines over her attempts to craft a so-called “sanctuary state” bill during the 2017 legislative session, said she was “thoroughly disappointed” but “not surprised” that Trump decided to end the program.

“I know firsthand the tenacity of DREAMers and their allies has only been strengthened by this terrible decision, and I’m committed to ensuring we do everything we can as a state to embrace immigrant families like mine who have made this a better country,” she said in a statement. “Trump will never change our resolve.”

Fellow Democratic state Sen. Tick Segerblom even went as far as to call on Gov. Brian Sandoval for a special session of the state’s part-time legislature to “enact protections” for the DACA program beneficiaries.

Other state and local leaders showed their support of the program by signing onto an open letter expressing support for DREAMers, including:

  • Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve
  • West Wendover Mayor Daniel Corona
  • Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani
  • Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus
  • Las Vegas City Council member Bob Coffin
  • Sig Rogich, president of the Rogich Communications Group and former ambassador to Iceland
  • Peter Guzman, President of the Latin Chamber of Commerce

Sen. Dean Heller:

Nevada’s senior senator hasn’t always been a full-throated supporter of DACA, but is on the record saying he supports the program and is co-sponsoring a bill that would give undocumented immigrants a three-year window of provisional protection and codify several parts of the executive order into law.

“The DACA program was born out of an executive order from President Obama and it’s another example of why it’s important that Congress debates and tackles any policy that significantly alters our nation’s laws,” he said in a statement to the Reno Gazette-Journal on Monday. “While I remain concerned about the way in which DACA came to life, I’ve made clear that I support the program because hard working individuals who came to this country through no fault of their own as children should not be immediately shown the door.”

Heller opposed a 2010 version of the DREAM Act as a member of the House, with his campaign calling it “a Band-Aid solution that will not solve the larger problem.”

But the Republican senator has moderated his stance on immigration since then, saying in an interview with NBC News last week that he opposed rescinding DACA protections.

“I like the current law the way that it is in place and I continue to support it,” he said. “Let’s help and support these individuals and find a pathway they can become United States citizens if that’s what they want to do.”

He also voted against opening up debate on a bill that would dismantle the funding for DACA in 2015 — the only Republican senator to do so. Heller was also one of 11 Republican senators to not sign onto a brief supporting the state of Texas’ legal challenge to the DACA program.

He’s also co-sponsored the BRIDGE Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in April allowing people eligible or who have received benefits under the DACA program to continue living in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

During a talk to the Hispanics in Politics group in Las Vegas, Heller said he was proud to join 13 other Republicans in supporting an ultimately unsuccessful comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 even though he took some heat for it.

“I do not want to see families broken apart. I want to make sure that our honest, hard working people are not unfairly punished. I want to make sure that young people are not denied the American Dream,” he said. “But open borders and sanctuary cities and a disregard for our nation’s laws only create chaos and drive down wages.”

Rep. Mark Amodei:

Nevada’s lone Republican congressman has taken a mixed position on the DACA program, saying he generally supports keeping the program in place while staunchly opposing the use of an executive order to set immigration policy.

He was one of 26 Republicans to vote against an amendment defunding the original iteration of the DACA program in January 2015, but voted in favor of defunding the expansion of the program and similar DAPA program. A spokesman for Amodei said at the time that the congressman was opposed to using executive actions to set immigration policy but that rolling back DACA would lead to “confusion” and instability.

He was also one of 11 Republicans to break with his party in an August 2014 vote to defund the DACA program, but said at the time his preference was still for a congressional bill and not an executive order.

“I’m saying listen, you deserve predictability and stability, and the rules need to be changed, and you need to be able to rely on that,” he said.

Amodei’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Rep. Jacky Rosen:

The freshman Democrat, who plans to challenge Heller in the 2018 U.S. Senate race, has also been outspoken in her support for the program.  She tweeted Monday that she was “utterly appalled” with the decision and called it a “heartless betrayal.”

In an August press release touting her co-sponsoring of the “American Hope Act of 2017,” — allowing DACA beneficiaries to apply for conditional permanent status and a five-year pathway to citizenship — called on the president to not ignore “the human impact of this critical decision.”

“If you grew up here, stayed out of legal trouble, and are contributing to our economy, then you should be able to live in the United States with peace of mind,” she said in a statement at the time. “DACA represents America’s best values of inclusion and opportunity, and ending this program would be a disgraceful and mean-spirited reprisal against the DREAMers who answered their nation’s call to come out of the shadows and apply for deferred action.”

Progressive groups and activists:

Youthful DACA recipients, progressive activists and a handful of lawmakers crowded the East Las Vegas community center Monday afternoon, eager to both make a political statement against the program ending and to start preparing for an uncertain future.

Prominent undocumented activists including Astrid Silva — a keynote speaker at the 2016 Democratic National Convention — spoke out against the program ending, acknowledging that DACA was always intended to be temporary but sharply criticized the rollout and timing of Trump’s decision to phase out the program over the next six months.

“This isn’t from a president,” she said in Spanish. “This is from a schoolkid, from a child. Sadly, this is what our lives mean to this president — a tweet where he says Congress should act. To me, our lives are much more than this.”

Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores, who also works as an immigration attorney, said the immediate goal should be twofold — get as many current DACA beneficiaries to renew their two-year applications before the Oct. 5 deadline, and to pressure members of Congress to find a permanent solution.

Flores recommended that current DACA recipients speak with professional immigration attorneys or attend community information sessions to find potential alternative deportation relief programs, and said that the possibility of ending the program and having teachers and other workers potentially lose their work permits would leave a “huge void” in the state.

“All we’re going to have is a bunch of hardworking individuals in their 20s and 30s, who have been contributing meaningfully to our economy, all of a sudden be deprived of a work permit, and be left standing with their hands, not knowing what to do.

Congressional and Senate candidates:

Danny Tarkanian:

Republican senate candidate Danny Tarkanian, right, embraces his son Jerry while his wife acknowledges supporters during his kick off campaign rally on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Despite a tendency to keep closely in line with President Trump’s policies and positions in his bid to challenge Heller in a primary, Tarkanian nevertheless said in an August interview that he would not be in favor of deporting people who came to the U.S. as children.

“There’s some different proposals out there, and I think some of them are valuable ones and I don’t think we should be going out trying to deport DREAMers,” he said.

On Tursday, Tarkanian said on Twitter that he agreed the program was “unconstitutional,” and promised to closely analyze Congressional proposals put forward over the next six months.

Stavros Anthony:

At the end of a recent meeting with the Hispanics in Politics group, Republican congressional candidate Stavros Anthony said he did not agree with the concept of sanctuary cities, but that the DREAMers’ case deserved to be treated separately.

“The DREAM Act is a little more difficult,” Anthony said. “It’s something that I want to talk to a lot of people about and perhaps on a case-by-case basis … maybe we will just take people individually and decide based on certain criteria if they are going to stay here under some kind of resident status or not.”

In a statement emailed late Monday, Anthony said he would work to come up with a solution to “provide certainity” for children brought to the country as children.

“As a retired police captain, I’m a firm believer in our duty to uphold the constitution and the rule of law,” he said. “That’s why it’s incumbent upon Congress to come up with a permanent legislative solution to provide certainty to those who were brought to the U.S. as children through no fault of their own. Now is the time to act, and when I get to Congress I will work with both Democrats and Republicans to fix our broken immigration system.”

Victoria Seaman:

Seaman, a former Republican Assemblywoman who in August announced her intentions to run for the state’s 3rd Congressional District, said she was pleased to see Trump end the “illegal” executive order creating the program.

“Deferred action was never legal and I am pleased to see President Trump honor one of his campaign promises by rescinding the illegal executive order,” she said in a text message. “I am also pleased that there is a 6 month window in order to reform immigration law in a way that makes sense for those in the program.”

Scott Hammond:

Republican state senator and Congressional District 3 candidate Scott Hammond, a bilingual former Spanish teacher who announced his congressional ambitions in June, blamed the “far-left” for refusing to negotiate on immigration reform and applauded Trump for forcing Congress to deal with DACA.

“Scott believes that the far-left has for years been kicking the can down the road in an effort to keep alive the political debate surrounding immigration,” Hammond spokesman Ross Hemminger said. President Trump is taking steps to fix our immigration crisis and ensure that the programs implemented are done so legally, rather than creating laws by executive order as President Obama did, flying in the face of our founding fathers’ vision for how our government should work. Immigration is an issue of national security and deserves the time and attention of a working Congress. The last thing our country needs right now are more professional politicians focused on their next election rather than trying to effect real change.”

Potential candidates for governor:

Steve Sisolak:

Clark County Commission chairman Steve Sisolak also spoke out against the repeal of the program in an earlier release, saying last month that the potential deportation of DREAMers is a “cruel and vindictive decision.”

“I’ve entered negotiations in both business and government. To threaten the destruction of innocent lives as leverage is weak, to do so for partisan political purposes is detestable,” he said in a statement. “As governor, I will oppose any efforts to play politics with innocent children with every tool at my disposal.”

He largely echoed those comments in a Facebook post on Monday, calling on Trump to “abandon this folly and protect these young people who want nothing more than to be accepted by the only country they’ve ever known.”

Chris Giunchigliani:

Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who is publicly mulling a gubernatorial bid, signed onto a public letter supporting DREAMers signed by a variety of state and local officials across the country.

Dan Schwartz:

Schwartz, the state’s Republican treasurer who announced his gubernatorial candidacy on Tuesday, said in a Monday interview that he agreed with the president putting pressure on Congress to come up with a legislative solution and said it was “pathetic” no immigration reform bill had passed.

“I think Congress should come out with an immigration law, and DACA should be part of it,” he said. “I’m not for or against it, obviously I don’t want to see a lot of these people disadvantaged, but I think it’s really up to Congress and immigration law. Why can’t 535 people who’ve we elected to pass laws do that? And they keep passing the buck. So do what you’re supposed to do. And the president has given them six months to do it.”

Education:

University of Nevada, Reno:

University of Nevada, Reno president Marc Johnson said in a Facebook post on Friday that the university would continue to welcome all students to UNR and would push for the state’s congressional delegation to continue DACA.

“We are proud of all of our DACA students. We want to protect the opportunity for anyone who comes to our University to pursue their dreams through education. We will continue to embrace our mission and support the members of our diverse groups, who are a valued and critical part of our campus community.”

University of Nevada, Las Vegas:

UNLV President Len Jessup sent an a campus-wide email Tuesday morning, reaffirming the university’s support for DACA and DREAMers. Last year, UNLV joined more than 600 high-education institutions in advocating for the continuation of the program.

Jessup vowed the university will continue doing everything in its power to provide students a “safe, supportive environment conducive to their success while following the law.”

“Even with today’s announcement, we will continue to champion the importance of education and the success of all our students,” he wrote.  “Citizenship is not a prerequisite for admission at UNLV, and our doors remain open to all students who seek education and the opportunities it provides. As I have said before, inclusiveness is at the core of a different, daring, and diverse UNLV. Nothing will change that stance.”

College of Southern Nevada:

In a campus-wide email, CSN president Mike Richards said that the college was focused on a “long-term” solution for DACA students and that the college would continue to push for the state’s congressional delegation to make the program permanent.

“Many DACA students have held leadership positions in student government while pursuing their educational goals,” he said. “They are wonderful young people. CSN has welcomed them, and will continue to protect the opportunity for all students to attend CSN.”

Clark County School District:

Clark County School District officials released a statement Tuesday reminding students and their families that their privacy would be protected. In January, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution affirming the district’s desire to provide a safe place for all students and protect their privacy.

“We don’t report undocumented immigrants to authorities,” Trustee Carolyn Edwards wrote. “The end of DACA would not affect the education of undocumented students in CCSD.

Washoe County School District:

In a statement, the state’s second largest school district said it would continue to support all students regardless of immigration status, and noted that the district’s board of trustees voted in February to adopt a “safe haven” resolution aimed at assuring undocumented parents that their children would be able to receive a free quality education.

“No student or family will ever be asked to provide information about immigration status, nor will any such information ever be gathered or shared by the District,” it said in a release.

Reporter Jackie Valley contributed to this story.