One of every 406 residents of New Jersey are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – just over 22,000. That's equal to the population of Summit and more people than are living in nearly four-fifths of the state’s municipalities.

The end of the program has immigrants brought here illegally as children worried about what comes next.

Among them is Ady, who arrived 22 years ago at age 2 from Mexico. The aspiring special education teacher lives in Hamilton and works while attending The College of New Jersey.

Those things are possible because of DACA, she said. She was able to get a driver’s license, allowing her to work. She was able to take on student loans to pay for college.

“Unfortunately now, I am unsure if I will be able to be a certified teacher because I do not have any form of a Social Security number. You need that,” Ady said. She also won’t be able to take on additional loans needed to finish college. “So essentially everything that I built up in the last five years will stop.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the program, created by President Barack Obama in 2012 without the involvement of Congress, will be terminated.

No new applications will be accepted for the program, which provides legal protections and a two-year work permit. People whose permits expire before March 5 have a month to request a two-year renewal, but no additional renewals will be accepted after Oct. 5.

Adriana Abizadeh, executive director of the Trenton-based Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said her agency’s phone was ringing off the hook Tuesday with young adults in a state of fear and uncertainty.

“It is now up to us to fight and rally with the dreamers, to get legislation passed that will provide them permanent status within our immigration civil code,” Abizadeh said. “No human is illegal, and we will not let them fight alone.”

Abizadeh was among the speakers at a Statehouse protest Tuesday that drew close to 100 people. Speakers pressed for Congress to act, perhaps by going further than DACA with what’s known as the DREAM Act, a bill that has been stalled in Congress since 2001.

“They shouldn’t have to fear one day,” said Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, of the nearly 800,000 people enrolled in DACA nationwide. “So let’s make it a priority of Congress to not end DACA but to extend DACA.”

“These aren’t pawns, and this isn’t a game,” said the Rev. William "Chip" Stokes, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. “These are real people, human beings, 22,000 of them our fellow neighbors in New Jersey.”

Ady, a DACA enrollee, addresses a Statehouse rally. (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media NJ)

Advocates for the program say its elimination would cost the state around one-third of the $66 million in state and local taxes that DACA participants pay annually and the $1.6 billion they contribute to New Jersey's economy.

Gov. Chris Christie did not offer any public comments Tuesday on Trump’s move to end DACA.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy called the end of DACA morally reprehensible and economically harmful. Republican candidate Kim Guadagno says Congress must act because splitting up families is “not who we are as New Jerseyans.”

U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, a Republican, said he is cosponsoring a bill that would allow people brought unlawfully to the country as children by their undocumented parents a path to citizenship.

The proposal would grant high school graduates without a serious criminal record, who don’t rely on public assistance, conditional immigration status. If, over a five-year period, they earn a higher-education degree, serve in the military or stay employed, they could apply for permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship. Enlisted military personnel would get to seek naturalization immediately.

Ady, whose enrollment in the program expires next August, said she hopes for a grassroots push for immigration reform, like that behind the women’s march and Black Lives Matter.

“There has been power behind that. So I do hope that there’s power behind this,” she said. “I have to have it. I have to have that hope to hang onto. Because if I don’t, then there’s really – it’s just giving up.”


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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