December 13, 2017


New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito provided keynote remarks before a December 6 event at SIPA that addressed the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the impact of its repeal by the Trump administration on immigrant communities in the city and the country. Organized by students in the Urban and Social Policy concentration, the panel welcomed experts including Columbia scholars and a grassroots activist.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, was an administrative program implemented by the Obama administration in 2012 to allow undocumented minors to receive a two-year deferred action status from deportation, along with other benefits such as work authorization. (Such minors are often called “Dreamers” in reference to the unpassed DREAM Act that would grant them conditional and eventually permanent legal residency.)

The Trump administration announced in early September that DACA would be repealed, leaving uncertain the fate of almost 800,000 Dreamers.

In her speech, Mark-Viverito underscored the city council's commitment to helping DACA beneficiaries and wider immigrant communities in New York at a time of uncertainty and crisis.

Mark-Viverito said the immigrant community is facing attacks from all angles right now, noting that Dreamers are especially vulnerable. She said the Council will keep funding initiatives and policies and passing legislation that provide immigrant New Yorkers with assistance in legal advice, education, financial empowerment, healthcare and more.

Mark-Viverito highlighted the Council's Immigrant Health Initiative, which makes healthcare accessible to immigrant communities, and the program’s expansion this year to include mental health services.

She praised programs including the state’s New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, which provides free lawyers to immigrants facing deportation and civil detention; the Council-backed Immigrant Opportunity Initiative, which provides free legal assistance with Dreamers seeking to renew their status and/or obtain authorization to work; and the CUNY-sponsored Citizenship Now! program, which works to reduce barriers to naturalization.

This year the Council passed legislation expanding the city's authority on the issue of immigration, reducing the city's cooperation with federal immigration enforcements, and protecting the privacy of all New Yorkers regarding their immigration status.

“An inclusive city is a safe city,” said Mark-Viverito. “We will not become a part of a mass deportation machine that undermines our city's safety, civility and economic growth at every turn.”


Panelists Elora Mukherjee, Van C. Tran, and Charlotte Gossett Navarro
Panelists (L-R) Elora Mukherjee, Van C. Tran, and Charlotte Gossett Navarro
The ensuing panel featured Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, Van C. Tran, an assistant professor in Columbia’s Department of Sociology, and Charlotte Gossett Navarro, a senior manager at the New York Immigration Coalition. Ester R. Fuchs, a SIPA faculty member and director of the USP program, moderated.


Mukherjee analyzed a few arguments against the repeal that are getting traction in courts. The legal basis of Trump Administration's repeal of DACA is unfounded, she said, because DACA intended to make deportation of qualifying applicants a low priority in the context of immigration enforcement generally. (The United States is home to about 11 million undocumented immigrants overall.) Doing so, she said, was well within the authority of the executive branch of the Obama administration.

Drawing on years of experience researching the impact of immigration, Tran said the repeal of DACA would bring dire social and economic costs to the nation. Citing recent research from both progressive and conservative sources, he suggested that DACA repeal would cost the U.S. economy billions in economic output and tax revenue. And, Tran added, since 72 percent of DACA recipients share families with American citizens, the repeal would also have negative impact on communities nationwide.

Navarro, a grassroots activist of immigrant rights, said that the current situation of DACA is a crisis. As renewal of the DACA status becomes increasingly difficult, she said, 1,100 people per day could lose their DACA status if nothing happens between now and March.

The panelists agreed that work authorization is a special concern for Dreamers, many of whom are finishing up their education or beginning to pursue careers. The uncertainty going forward has left many under considerable mental and professional stress.

In the Q&A session that followed, panelists considered questions from the audience regarding the repeal's impact on University life and the wider immigrant community, along with possible courses of action and community outreach.

— Mia Li MIA ’18

Photos: Barbara Alper