Human Trafficking Unaddressed By Immigration Debate, Agency Claims

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

HACES has processed more than 300 application renewals from Lake County for the DACA program in 2018. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, created by a 2012 executive order issued by then-President Barack Obama, is still a topic of debate for federal legislators, as a Lake County nonprofit agency continues to help individuals renew their applications for the program.

A March 5 expiration deadline issued by the current administration has been relegated to inaction through legal challenges, keeping DACA viable for the moment.

At issue is when the program will stop, and what the consequences will mean for those impacted individuals that meet the program guidelines, at the local level. A larger question is the business of human trafficking across the border, and its inherent corruption of border officials skirting any proposed revisions in immigration policies.

“The struggle is inevitably when DACA will stop, and when it happens, what will it mean,” said Maria-Elena Jonas, CEO, and founder of the Hispanic American Community Education and Services. “Children under the DACA program, and their families, have fears that they will be deported from their homes, once the government has the information from the applications. We have processed over 300 renewals for Lake County, so far this year.

“We haven’t been given any new directives, and the program has not been brought up for a final vote, so it’s still open to renew those people that meet the criteria,” she said. “What undermines all this is the corruption of human trafficking from all countries, so a wall means nothing. The goal has to be enforcement of policy without all the corruption at the border, not only from smugglers, but whoever is in charge.”

DACA was meant as a protection for children brought into the country illegally by their parents, who themselves were undocumented aliens. It emerged as compromise legislation to the defeated Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minorities act. Its guidelines are that young adults can not have entered the country after their 16th birthday, not entered the country past the date of June 16, 2007, and not be older than 30 years of age.

The Trump administration’s stance on more restrictive immigration policies has stifled attempts at bi-partisan federal legislation for concrete reform, by tying a re-authorization for the DACA program to the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. In February, a Senate bill, presented by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) outlined a citizenship protocol for the DACA children crossed with an end to the diversity lottery visa program. The bill was defeated by a 60-39 vote.

“DACA children are already here,” said Jonas. “The administration is making its case based on immigration from Honduras, Nicaragua … DACA children are from Mexico. A wall is not going to stop them. If he’s stopping them from going back, then it makes sense to build one.     

“Immigration policy means nothing without reinforcing policy against corruption. This is a reality, we hear from our clients,” she said. “There are bribes made at the border, by smugglers, and they pay shares to the officials. These are amateurs, who leave people by the Rio Grande River, or in the desert. This is large scale … a fearful thing. It is a highly paid industry, and a global problem.”

There are nearly 695,000 DACA beneficiaries vying to keep their work permits and security from deportations in place, while legal cases wind through the court systems. Earlier this year, a San Francisco federal judge ruled that the current administration acted improperly September in seeking to terminate the program, and ordered a stay in policy.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released a statement, Jan. 13, coinciding with the court order, reading in part: “Until further notice, and unless otherwise provided in this guidance … the DACA policy will be operated on the terms in place before it was rescinded Sept. 5, 2017.”

Jonas added, “The media downplays the human trafficking aspects in favor of rhetoric over immigration policies. If someone qualifies for new immigration relief, they should be allowed to get it. The same for people under protected status that instead must worry about deportation, and benefits without any future remedy. There are so many components to immigration to be addressed, and not just the simplistic viewpoint.

HACES, a nonprofit agency, has been working toward supplying social services and guidance in meeting the needs of Lake County’s diverse immigrant community. Located at 820 W. Greenwood Ave. in Waukegan, its mission focuses solely on citizenship, assistance, and programs to ease the transitions of naturalization while offering steps toward beginning the process.


Human Trafficking Unaddressed By Immigration Debate, Agency Claims–