Politics

LGBT immigrants fear deportation as Congress debates whether to take up DACA

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients Alberto Donjuan, left, and Luis F. Gomez speak to reporters on Dec. 4, 2017 at Mi Centro, an LGBT community service center in Boyle Heights.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients Alberto Donjuan, left, and Luis F. Gomez speak to reporters on Dec. 4, 2017 at Mi Centro, an LGBT community service center in Boyle Heights.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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As a battle continues in Congress over the fate of young immigrants protected by the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, young gay and lesbian immigrants living and working in the U.S. legally under DACA spoke out Monday in Los Angeles.

“Deportation to the countries of birth might mean a death sentence to LGBTQ DACA recipients," said Luis F. Gomez, a 28-year-old DACA recipient. He and others say that gay, lesbian and transgender people often face violence and hostility along with widespread discrimination in Latin America and other parts of the world.

"This is a very urgent matter right now," said Gomez, who works as an immigration resources specialist for the LGBT Center of Orange County. Gomez gathered with others at Mi Centro, a Boyle Heights community center operated by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Latino Equality Alliance.

Alberto Donjuan, 24, of Santa Ana said he worries about deportation to Mexico, not only because he fears anti-gay discrimination but because he's not fluent in Spanish. He has few known relatives there.

"I came here when I was four. I don't remember Mexico," said Donjuan, a college student who works for a cell phone company. 

According to a UCLA report issued earlier this year, an estimated 36,000 LGBT young people have participated in DACA. The program grants temporary protection from deportation and work permits to roughly 800,000 young unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States as children.

About a quarter of them live in California.

President Trump rescinded the program in September, and asked Congress to find a solution to DACA recipients' status before their two-year permits begin phasing out beginning March 5.

Legislation is pending that would create a path to permanent legal status for DACA recipients and others who arrived in the U.S. as children. But with no congressional action yet, young people who depend on the permits to work and live here legally have become increasingly frustrated and fearful they may be targeted by immigration agents.

More recently, the issue of DACA recipients has become part of the congressional debate over a federal spending bill that is needed by Friday to keep the federal government operating.

Some Democratic leaders have threatened to withhold their support from any spending bill unless DACA is addressed and the young immigrants are allowed to stay legally. This sets the stage for a possible government shutdown if there's no agreement on even a temporary measure that would keep things running until Dec. 22. 

Opponents of illegal immigration say they want increased immigration enforcement if there is to be any compromise on DACA. President Trump has also demanded certain conditions as a tradeoff for legislation that would benefit DACA recipients, such as money for a border wall and changes to the legal immigration system to emphasize factors like work skills rather than the current focus on family reunification.

Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank that advocates for tighter immigration rules, said a DACA deal is unlikely unless Democrats are willing to compromise on issues like more border security.

“It does seem likely that most Republicans would support legal status for those who have DACA in return for some enforcement provisions, and also for some reforms in the legal immigration system," Camarota said.