Nearly 100 Mainers could lose their protection from deportation because of President Trump’s decision to roll back the federal program that gave work permits to young undocumented immigrants.

“We’re extremely concerned,” said Sue Roche, executive director at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project. The organization has helped dozens of clients apply for and renew their protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.

“We’ve just seen the most incredible success stories of individuals who came here with their parents when they were very, very young, who excelled in school, who were reaching the end, graduating from high school but really hit a road block (because of their immigration status),” Roche said.

DACA allowed them to pursue higher education and careers in nursing, electrical engineering, the blueberry industry and other fields, Roche said. “They were just starting to feel a little bit of stability in their lives and are now concerned about what might happen,” she said.

MAINE REPUBLICAN PARTY BACKS DECISION

The Maine Republican Party supported the announcement Tuesday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Trump administration would rescind DACA, acting on a promise the president made on the campaign trail.

“DACA was an unconstitutional executive action from the beginning,” Demi Kouzounas, the party chairwoman, said in a written statement. “We are a nation of laws, this is an unavoidable truth.”

The Maine party supports immigration “so long as the proper steps are taken to obtain legal citizenship,” Kouzounas said. “We hope that Congress will assist President Trump’s goal of securing our nation’s borders as any immigration legislation is considered.”

Nationally, nearly 800,000 people have been approved for the program, which was created by former President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order after the DREAM Act failed in Congress. DACA granted immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children the permission to live and work here without punishment. Those eligible, so-called “dreamers,” received two-year, renewable work permits.

The majority of DACA recipients were born in Latin America and are now residents of California and Texas. In Maine, 95 people have received work authorization through the program. Additionally, an unknown number of registrants are residents of other states and in Maine attending college.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, at the Justice Department in Washington on Tuesday. Associated Press/Susan Walsh

Since Trump’s election, Roche said attorneys at ILAP have been advising people eligible for DACA to wait before applying. ILAP is offering free legal consultations to anyone who could be affected by the federal decision, although many details about the end of the program are unknown.

The DACA application requires personal information such as address, travel history and school records. The Department of Homeland Security has said information in those applications will not be proactively provided to immigration agencies, but it is unclear how the end of the program will affect enforcement.

“Certainly, people gave this information with the expectation that it would not be used to deport them, but it would be used to allow them to enter into our legal immigration system,” Roche said. Maine residents who are enrolled in the program have been reluctant to speak publicly.

Roche said the immigrant community already was reeling from policy changes and heightened enforcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. “It all combines together to create a greater sense of fear and anxiety,” she said.

UNIVERSITY SYSTEM URGES CONGRESS TO ACT

After the administration’s announcement Tuesday, leaders of Maine’s private colleges and public universities called on Congress to act.

The University of Maine System released a written statement from board of trustees Chairman James Erwin, who said the schools will continue to monitor changes in federal immigration policy. A spokesman said fewer than 10 of the roughly 30,000 students at Maine’s public universities have voluntarily identified themselves as DACA recipients.

“Although there are relatively few students in our system who have self-reported DACA status, the uncertainty any enrolled student may feel about his or her ability to continue his or her public higher education is important to us all,” Erwin said. “We are therefore hopeful that Congress will act to bring certainty to the immigration status of those who seek to better themselves by lawfully pursuing a Maine public higher education and the resulting credentials and degrees that open the door to employment opportunities in our state.”

SMALL COLLEGES WORRIED FOR STUDENTS

Leaders at small private colleges such as Bates, Bowdoin and Colby have used strong language to criticize Trump’s immigration policies in recent months. They were critical again Tuesday when they spoke against the decision to rescind DACA.

“Ending this program runs counter to core American ideals and will cause unnecessary, widespread fear and uncertainty for thousands of students and families across the country,” Bates President Clayton Spencer said in a written statement. “To single out and punish this group of engaged and talented young people, who seek the opportunity to learn and grow into productive members of our society, is a self-defeating action opposed by political leaders of both parties and by a majority of the American public.”

Spencer also said Bates students, regardless of immigration status, are eligible to apply for financial aid.

Bowdoin President Clayton Rose wrote a letter to all students, faculty and staff to express support for immigrant students. He also said security personnel at Bowdoin do not ask about immigration status or enforce immigration laws, and he encouraged members of the Bowdoin community to contact their elected officials to share their own views on DACA.

“This is a profoundly disappointing decision – one that places in jeopardy many people, including college students, who came to this country as children, who have worked hard, followed the rules, and earned success, and who now face a very uncertain future for themselves and their family members,” Rose said in his letter.

Colby President David A. Greene also wrote a letter on the issue, saying he hopes Congress finds a legislative solution.

“Our commitment to members of our community affected by this decision is unwavering,” he wrote. “And Colby as an institution is strengthened and its mission furthered by our ability to admit and support students regardless of their national origin or immigration status.”

None of the three colleges shared the number of students protected by DACA. Neither Bowdoin nor Colby responded when asked if they would secure the financial aid packages of DACA-registered students. However, both colleges state on their websites that they meet the demonstrated financial need of all students, regardless of citizenship.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Paul LePage did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

‘CRUEL DECISION,’ CHORUS OF CRITICS

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett released a statement saying the “cruel decision” to rescind DACA defies common sense. “Dreamers grew up in our communities and have spent most, if not all, of their lives as proud Americans. These young people share our values and are making invaluable contributions to our economy,” he said. “Removing protections from dreamers would tear families apart, make our communities less safe, and hurt our economy by billions of dollars.”

The chorus of critics also included the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, who is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate for 2018.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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