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ND, Minnesota reaction to 'dreamers' rollback follows party lines

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.1 / 2
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.2 / 2

Reaction from the region's congressional delegations was mixed on President Donald Trump's decision to end a program that protects thousands of immigrants in North Dakota and Minnesota from deportation.

"It's clear our country's immigration system is broken," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., of Trump's rollback Tuesday, Sept. 5, of immigration policies that allow young, undocumented immigrants to work and learn in the U.S. "But it's wrong to blame or penalize individuals who were brought here as children—more than half of whom arrived in the U.S. when they were younger than or around 6 years old, came here through no fault of their own, and were simply brought here by their parents or relatives."

The policy, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—or DACA—was created by President Barack Obama by executive action in 2012. It's aimed at those who were younger than 16 when they came to the U.S., giving them a temporary permit to stay in the country to either work or seek education—so long as they haven't committed any serious crimes, aren't a security threat, and have or are seeking at least a high school diploma or GED.

Participants have to meet a date-of-birth requirement as well, which mandates that they were 31 in mid-June 2012, and have to have lived in the U.S. since June 2007.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that the program won't accept new applications. Though it's expected to continue processing those it's already received, Trump's decision means program participants—known as dreamers—could be deported beginning in early March as soon as their two-year, renewable permission to remain in the U.S. expires.

The Trump administration asked Congress to replace the program legislatively before then.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services, 98 DACA application forms from North Dakota have been approved between 2012 and March of this year. In Minnesota, 6,255 such forms have been approved over the same period. Around the country, there are roughly 800,000 beneficiaries of the program.

News that the administration was considering rolling back DACA begin filtering out over the weekend.

Many politicians, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both Minnesota Democrats, responded on social media with apprehension. Rep. Collin Peterson, a fellow Minnesota Democrat, issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the administration's decision.

Both North Dakota Republicans took a different approach, siding with those who feel the program should not have been instituted by executive order from Obama.

"Despite the fact that immigration policy should be legislated by Congress, the Obama administration unilaterally established DACA," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement, echoing similar remarks from Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. "Congress needs to work to find a legislative solution that permanently addresses this issue in a fair manner, and at the same time ensure that our border is secure to prevent illegal immigration going forward."

The degree to which Dreamers are woven into the Grand Forks community is unclear. A spokesperson with with Grand Forks Public Schools said the school district does not collect such information on its students. East Grand Forks Public Schools Superintendent Mike Kolness said he's not aware of any students who are dreamers. Peter Johnson, a spokesman for UND, said he was aware of one potential dreamer affiliated with the university, though he would not say if that person is a student, staff member or faculty.

Anna Marie Stenson, a Fargo immigration attorney, said she's helped about 10 people gain their legal status under DACA.

Stenson said the administration's move has made the future for Dreamers highly uncertain. Because DACA applications require Dreamer hopefuls to disclose a great deal of personal information, Stenson said they've handed the government a trove of information that would make it easy to pursue deportation proceedings against them or their families.

"They're extremely desirable classes of immigrants," she said, remarking on the age and educational requirements for the program. "These are the type of workers we want to have here. They've taken a brave step in coming forward to participate in this program."

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108
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