In the wake of the Trump administration’s announcement on Tuesday to unwind an Obama-era program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation, City Councilman Zeke Cohen said he plans to continue to welcome undocumented immigrants and refugees to Baltimore.
In a seven-minute video posted to Facebook, Cohen, a staunch supporter of immigrant rights who represents Southeast Baltimore, said people who come to the United States escaping violence and persecution should not have to live in fear.
“The moral loss that we take when we decide to close ourselves to the rest of the world is punishing, and it’s not what we as a country stand for,” Cohen said.
He was among a number of Jewish elected officials and advocacy organizations to slam the president.
The decision by Trump, a Republican, to make good on his campaign promise to terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has elicited emotional responses from his detractors. At the same time, however, the president encouraged Congress to act on the program, providing a six-month window to enact new protections for Dreamers.
Under DACA, people who entered the country as children prior 2007 were given amnesty. They had to attend school or work or been honorably discharged from the military, as well as have a mostly clean criminal record.
Roughly 10,000 Marylanders are beneficiaries of DACA, which President Barack Obama’s administration implemented in 2012, and some lawmakers said removing such safeguards would be cruel to those who are not to blame for their illegal status.
Democratic state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said in a prepared statement that his office is evaluating all potential options to protect immigrant Dreamers and their families. Ending DACA would represent a loss of $509.4 million in the state’s annual gross domestic product, according to the statement.
“Our country has already invested in these Dreamers — the next generation of teachers, skilled workers and business owners — and we must find a way to continue that commitment,” the statement read. “Turning our backs on them is the wrong choice.”
The termination of DACA would leave an estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants living and working in the United States subject to deportation. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is working diligently to avoid such a scenario.
At a gathering of more than 50 spiritual and community leaders at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore on Friday, Cardin said he expects the Dream Act to pass by year’s end. The legislation would legalize young immigrants who entered the country illegally while children.
“It is our values that make this country the great nation that it is,” Cardin said. “Those values are ones that embrace great diversity and recognize that every person should have their full opportunity in this country. There should not be a religious test about who comes to America, that we do stand up for those people who have been persecuted and provide that safe haven.”
Cynthia B. Rosenberg, an immigration attorney at Baltimore-based Rourke & Rosenberg, has helped file dozens of DACA applications. In the past two weeks, she said, she has received a few dozen phone calls and emails from both individual DACA recipients and businesses about how to maintain their “star” employees.
“This decision is not just devastating for Dreamers who placed their trust in the U.S.,” Rosenberg told the JT via email. “It is a kick in the face to American businesses and communities who depend on their energy, hard work and talent. These young people have been vetted and earned our trust.”
Those who have DACA status and whose work permits expire between now and March 5, 2018 will be eligible for a two-year renewal if they apply by Oct. 5. Rosenberg said she plans to help those individuals by volunteering at the University of Baltimore’s clinic for DACA recipients in the coming weeks.
The Baltimore Jewish Council asked in a letter for the entire Maryland congressional delegation to join Cardin. Citing challenges Jews have faced in their own history as a marginalized group of people, the BJC hopes to see a permanent program to lawfully ensure that Dreamers are protected.
“As a Jewish community, this issue is particularly relevant as migration has been a central element of the Jewish experience, from biblical times to modern American-Jewish life with the emigration of Jews to the United States in search of religious freedom and economic opportunity,” the BJC said in a prepared statement.
Other Jewish elected officials said they sympathize with the DACA recipients whose futures are now far less certain.
On a personal level, Cohen said that had his grandmother not had the courage to escape Nazi reign in Austria during World War II, he would not be alive today to talk about it. The rest of his family, he added, perished in the Holocaust.
“She came here, and she created and contributed,” Cohen said. “She created a community. That’s what this country was founded on. That’s what this country is all about.”
In August, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz joined more than 100 mayors and county officials across the nation, including Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, in a “Cities for Action” campaign calling on Trump to continue DACA.
In a prepared statement, Kamenetz said that the county embraces children who come to the United States as “youngsters, grew up as Americans and are now contributing to the American dream.”
“We urge the President to continue our country’s support of America’s Dreamers,” said Kamenetz, who is considering a run for governor.
This story has been updated.