'DREAMers' gave up their personal info for DACA. Now, they wonder, will the U.S. use it to deport them?

Evelin Hernandez cries as she hold a sign reading “My dreams matter. Don’t shatter them.” at a protest against the announcement that the Trump administration is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, in Minneapolis Sept. 5. Hernandez is a special education paraprofessional and is enrolled in the DACA program. (Photo: Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via AP)

In order to enroll in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, Maria Praeli was required to provide the federal government a trove of personal documents, including her birth certificate, current and previous home addresses, phone numbers, school and medical records, as well as biometric data such as fingerprints and a photo ID.

“I gave them all my information,” said Praeli, who moved to the U.S. from Peru with her parents when she was 5, to reporters on a conference call following Tuesday’s announcement that the Trump administration plans to end the program that provides a temporary shield from deportation for undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as children.

“Now we could face deportation for doing what the government asked of us.”

A 2016 graduate of Quinnipiac University, Praeli is now a policy associate at FWD.us, a pro-immigration reform group backed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley figures. She is also one of nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who entrusted the federal government with an array of personal information that many fear could now be used against them.

“It’s scary,” Praeli said. “They know where I live, they know where my family lives. I feel as though it puts us in danger. … We are the easiest targets for them.”

Whether and how ICE will be able to tap into the DACA database remains to be seen. But the U.S. government has a troubling history of using legitimately collected personal information for different, and more nefarious, purposes. Perhaps the most glaring example is the Census Bureau’s involvement in helping locate Japanese-Americans to be rounded up and sent to internment camps after Pearl Harbor.

Japanese citizens wait in line for their assigned homes at an internment camp reception center in Manzanar, Calif., on March 24, 1942. Many were forced from their homes in Los Angeles by the U.S. Army. (AP)

Though a number of laws have since been passed that restrict the use of census data to statistical analysis, civil libertarians have raised concerns about the federal government’s use of biometric and other identifying data the FBI has collected on people who have been convicted of a crime or suspected of terrorist activity — or just applied for a job or visa that required a background check.

“Increasingly there are examples where information collected for one reason is used for another purpose,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who focuses on issues of national security, privacy and surveillance.

Guliani pointed to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which allows for the warrantless communications surveillance of non-Americans believed to be outside the United States, but can include their communications with people inside the country.

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“The law was justified as a counterterrorism tool,” she said. However, thanks in large part to documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, “we now know that the FBI, NSA and CIA routinely search through this database looking for information about Americans (who are not supposed to be targets), and the FBI essentially uses it as a Google search in cases that have nothing to do with national security,” such as domestic crimes.

In one sense, questions about the potential reuse of DACA data are part of the larger issue concerning how the government uses personal information. Yet the DACA database is unique in that it is filled with information collected for the specific purpose of shielding people from deportation.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told reporters Tuesday that the potential release of this confidential information has been “one of the greatest fears about what will happen,” when DACA is terminated.

Pedro Leon Martinez receives help from volunteer Maria Peralta in filing his application for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 2012. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

“Certainly the expectation from individuals was that this information was not going to be made available and used for immigration enforcement,” said Guliani. “Not only is this program being yanked out from underneath them, but now [DACA enrollees] are in a position where they’ve shared information with the federal government that, in the wrong hands, could be used to their detriment.”

Fearing this exact situation, 111 members of Congress sent a letter to President Barack Obama last December, urging him to do whatever he could to protect info submitted by DACA applicants, including suggesting that he issue “an Executive Order that would prohibit the use of DACA enrollees’ information for purposes other than originally intended, including for purposes of deportation.”

Later in December, a few weeks before Trump’s inauguration, then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson responded to the letter, stating that the Obama administration shared the lawmakers’ concerns about the security of the DACA database, but stopped short of taking any sort of additional measures to protect it.

“Since DACA was announced in 2012, DHS has consistently made clear that information provided by applicants will be collected and considered for the primary purpose of adjudicating their DACA requests and would be safeguarded from other immigration-related purposes,” Johnson wrote in a letter. “More specifically, the U.S. government represented to applicants that the personal information they provided will not be later used for immigration enforcement purposes except where it is independently determined that a case involves a national security or public safety threat, criminal activity, fraud, or limited other circumstances where issuance of a notice to appear is required by law.”

“We believe these representations made by the U.S. government, upon which DACA applicants most assuredly relied, must continue to be honored.”

Johnson declined Yahoo News’ request to comment on whether, in retrospect, the Obama administration could’ve done more to shield this sensitive information.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes a statement at the Justice Department in Washington Sept. 5, on President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. (Photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

In an attempt to clear up some of the confusion surrounding Sessions’s DACA declaration, the Department of Homeland Security posted a memo on its website this week that, in Guliani’s words, left many DACA recipients and their advocates with “a lot more questions than answers.”

According to the memo, DHS is currently upholding its policy that “generally, information provided in DACA requests will not be proactively provided to other law enforcement entities (including ICE and CBP) for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings.”

However, Guliani said what’s especially concerning is the following line, which notes that this policy “may be modified, superseded, or rescinded at any time without notice.” She pointed out that the Trump administration has already “flipped its position many times on this issue.”

The president’s position on DACA has been inconsistent. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump pledged to revoke the program, which Obama enacted via executive order in 2012. However, once elected, Trump promised to “show great heart” toward undocumented young people in carrying out his aggressive immigration enforcement agenda. His muddled messaging on DACA continued to create more confusion this week: Hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the administration had terminated DACA, Trump suggested that he might actually renew the program in six months if Congress is not able to pass the protections for young immigrants into law.

Guliani said the lack of clarity surrounding Trump’s position on DACA is even more troubling given his administration’s previous “efforts to strip immigrants of privacy rights.” Buried in an executive order on “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” one of many signed by Trump shortly after his inauguration, is a provision that says the federal government will no longer extend Privacy Act protections to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or green-card holder.

This executive action, signed in January, sparked concerns throughout the immigration world that have now been amplified by this week’s DACA announcement.

“We are in an administration whose disregard for immigrants has extended into disregard for privacy rights as well,” said Guliani.

White House talking points distributed on Capitol Hill Tuesday noted that “the Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.”

And yet by Thursday, amid nationwide protests, political backlash and a growing pile of lawsuits, Trump appeared to contradict himself yet again, tweeting: “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!”

But Trump’s assurances will likely do little to assuage the anxiety of hundreds of thousands young immigrants like Maria Praeli, who pointed out on Tuesday that “we have seen DACA recipients being detained while the program is still in place. What does that mean when the program is gone?”


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