Democrats and immigration activists have long claimed that amnesty for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children wouldn’t include young people with a criminal history, but many of the juvenile beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) were affiliated with gangs and had arrest records when granted the program’s benefits, according to a new report.
George Fishman of the Center for Immigration Studies this week released a report highlighting how many criminal immigrant youths qualify for DACA but face few consequences.
“Despite the successful framing of Dreamers and DACA recipients as young people with no criminal records, it turns out that many were affiliated with gangs and many had arrest records when granted DACA benefits, and many others saw their DACA status terminated because of criminal activity,” the report states.
The publication comes as Democrats in Congress are preparing a legislative push before they lose control of the House early next year to provide a pathway to citizenship for recipients of DACA. The Obama administration established the program in 2012 to grant protection from deportation for so-called “Dreamers,” illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Proponents of DACA and the Dream Act, a longtime legislative proposal to grant amnesty to Dreamers, have consistently said the program won’t help people with criminal records.
Only “young people who are poised to contribute to our country and have met strict requirements regarding moral character and criminal history would be eligible,” said then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in 2011, for example.
“These individuals do not pose a risk to public safety,” Napolitano emphasized. “They do not pose a risk to national security.”
Since then, numerous Democrats and immigration activists have expressed similar sentiments, claiming those with a “criminal history” or “criminal record” don’t benefit from DACA.
The DACA application form asks if the potential beneficiary has ever been a member of a gang, killed or seriously hurt someone, committed sexual assault, or “ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, including incidents handled in juvenile court, in the United States?”
However, “in actuality, the DACA program is more lenient,” according to the report, which noted certain misdemeanors aren’t deemed significant enough to bar someone from DACA eligibility. Plus, the form’s instructions state that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), may consider granting DACA protections even if someone was arrested or detained and charges were filed.
“If USCIS determines that you have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors not occurring on the same date and not arising out of the same act, omission, or scheme of misconduct, or that you otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety, USCIS is unlikely to defer action in your case, except where DHS determines that exceptional circumstances exist,” the instructions continue.
Of this standard, the Center for Immigration Studies report quips, “It is certainly comforting to know that, despite Secretary Napolitano’s assurances, USCIS reserves the right to grant DACA to an alien who poses a threat to national security or public safety, who has been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors.”
Over the years, Republican senators have penned multiple letters to DHS about alleged DACA recipients arrested or charged with serious crimes such as murder and sex trafficking.
In 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a major operation targeting gang members and associates involved in transnational criminal activity, noting three of those arrested had been DACA beneficiaries.
That same year, the Washington Examiner reported that 622 DACA recipients had their status revoked that year due to criminal activity and that a total of 2,139 had their status pulled from 2013-2017.
“It confirms that the DACA screening process was woefully inadequate,” Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies told the Examiner at the time. “The eligibility bar was set very low, explicitly allowing people with multiple misdemeanor and certain felony convictions to be approved. Only a handful of the applicants were ever interviewed, and only rarely was the information on the application ever verified.”
According to data provided in 2018 by USCIS to lawmakers, hundreds of individuals who obtained DACA benefits that were later revoked due to criminal and/or gang involvement were still living in the country and at large. The data also included a list of more than 45 gang affiliations of the ex-DACA criminals.
USCIS released data in 2019 indicating 7.8% of all approved DACA applicants had an arrest record — 59,786 individuals, of whom 53,792 had a record before approval and 7,814 had a later arrest. The agency also noted about 1% of approved DACA applicants have an arrest in any given year, many for severe crimes.
“The truth is that we let those with criminal arrests for sexually assaulting a minor, kidnapping, human trafficking, child pornography, or even murder be provided protection from removal,” said former USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna.
The new report noted that juvenile adjudications aren’t treated as deportable convictions under immigration law.
The USCIS states in its policy manual for adjudicators that “findings of juvenile delinquency are not considered criminal convictions for purposes of immigration law.”
Regarding DACA specifically, the manual states: “With respect to juvenile delinquency records … USCIS does not consider a juvenile delinquency determination a conviction for immigration purposes, consistent with longstanding DACA policy and [Board of Immigration Appeals] precedent. Also consistent with longstanding DACA policy, USCIS does not consider juvenile delinquency adjudications as automatically disqualifying for DACA.”
Still, young immigrants adjudicated as delinquent can face consequences. As the USCIS policy manual for adjudicators states:[While] findings of juvenile delinquency are not considered criminal convictions for purposes of immigration law … certain grounds of inadmissibility do not require a conviction. In some cases, certain conduct alone may be sufficient to trigger an inadmissibility ground. Furthermore … USCIS will consider findings of juvenile delinquency on a case-by-case basis based on the totality of the evidence to determine whether a favorable exercise of discretion is warranted.
According to Fishman, lawmakers and federal agencies should be focusing on setting clear guidelines and ensuring consequences for criminal activity.
“Regardless of one’s views as to the ‘deservingness’ as a general matter of illegal aliens brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents, brought to the U.S. by smugglers paid for by their parents, or who simply came to the U.S. on their own accord, those who are criminals (whether convicted in criminal court or adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court) should surely face immigration consequences,” the report declares. “The lasting devastation to the lives of crime victims and their families is not wiped away simply because the perpetrators are minors, even if those minors were ‘brought to the U.S. through no fault of their own.'”