Op-ed: Looking past the repeal of DACA, the fight for the soul of our country starts at home

We stand with all immigrants and their families in Hawai‘i and across America.

The administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is a low blow to our communities and values. In a fast rebuke to the decision, Hawai‘i has joined a coalition of 16 states in a lawsuit to protect DACA recipients or “dreamers,” who include almost six hundred young people in Hawai‘i. As important as the State’s legal action is, there is more we can do to defend immigrants and their families–starting with ensuring that those tasked with protecting our communities do not become an arm of the administration’s deportation force.

DACA began in 2012, when the federal government made a deal with young immigrants who had arrived as children and grown up in America—too often without knowing that they were undocumented: as long as you pass a criminal background check, you could safely live, study, and work in the United States. Hundreds of thousands accepted this offer and built their lives relying on the government’s word. Dreamers enjoy broad bipartisan support and the government has repeatedly and successfully defended DACA in court. Consequently, DACA’s repeal is nothing but a reversal of the U.S. government’s consistent and tested legal position that throws the lives and futures of 800,000 dreamers in limbo.

But this goes well beyond DACA. Trump’s anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric is fueling a toxic political agenda that we must resist at all levels of government. Beyond broad Executive Orders and repeals, the efforts to conscript our police into federal immigration enforcement would drive a lasting wedge between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Our police departments routinely apply to receive funds through the Department of Justice’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. The grant honors Edward Byrne, a brave 22-year old NYPD officer, who was murdered while protecting the house of a Guyanese immigrant who had reported criminal activities on his street and had received threats as result. This year, the Trump administration wants to tarnish Byrne’s legacy by attaching two conditions, never approved by Congress, to the funding. First, law enforcement must allow federal immigration agents into detention facilities to interrogate detainees merely suspected of being undocumented. Second, grant recipients will have to provide 48-hours’ notice before releasing a detainee if requested by immigration enforcement, a move that could result in the deportation of thousands of people for something as small as a traffic ticket. Both conditions are outside the purview of local policing and a blatant attempt by the administration to strong-arm the States into enabling a broken immigration system that routinely tears families apart while eroding everyone’s civil rights in the process.

This will not be the last time the administration tries to enlist our police in one of its crusades. Hawaii’s culture and values align with immigrants–and not on the side that seeks to divide us by race and national origin. The time to act is now.

While we applaud our congressional delegation’s commitment to pass the Dream Act, we can and must do more. Most urgently, our communities must take back control over local government’s involvement in immigration enforcement.

For that purpose, we call on our county councils to pass legislation requiring council approval for any law enforcement agreements implicating immigration enforcement. We the people, and not Jeff Sessions or officials operating without local public input, must determine when and whether our law enforcement should collaborate with federal immigration enforcement. Our values, civil liberties, and safety are at stake. The ACLU of Hawaiʻi will be working with communities across Hawaiʻi to pass such legislation promptly.

By Mateo Caballero, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaiʻi

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