WASHINGTON – The Trump administration’s rollback of a program that allows undocumented students to leave the U.S. for education or work and return legally has hurt so-called “dreamers,” the executive director of the California-Mexico Studies Center told several members of Congress on Tuesday.

Advance parole is a little-known provision in U.S. immigration law that allows people who were brought into the country illegally as children to leave the U.S. for educational, work or humanitarian purposes and return legally. But on Sept. 5, 2017, the Trump administration began denying requests to re-enter the U.S. under advance parole for people who fell under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and had left the country.

DACA, the program instituted by President Barack Obama in 2012 to provide a path to legal status for people brought to the country illegally as children, saw an estimated 43,000 recipients approved for travel through advance parole over the five years between its inception and the rollback, according to a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In December, California Democratic Reps. Alan Lowenthal, who represents the Long Beach area, and Nanette Barragán, who represents the San Pedro area, organized a letter signed by 12 other legislators requesting Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to restore the advance parole provision under law for people with DACA status.

“We think of people who have been deported as people who do not have the documentation to stay here. One of the things I learned is who goes with those families who have been deported? Their children go, who are frequently U.S. citizens,” Lowenthal said at Tuesday’s briefing intended to gain more support among House members for reinstating advance parole.

Armando Vazquez-Ramos, executive director of the California-Mexico Studies Center, submitted a letter Jan. 10 to Democratic congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, urging them to reinstate the advance parole travel permits for DACA recipients.

Vazquez-Ramos, who is also a professor at California State University-Long Beach, said he hopes to energize Latino members of Congress, who he feels should hold the Trump administration accountable for its denial of travel requests.

Lidieth Areval, a “dreamer” from El Salvador told the House members that she used advance parole several times to travel to see her family. After the Trump decision to roll back advance parole, Areval said she had to forego a filmmaking scholarship in Australia for fear of not being able to return.

In addition to lost educational opportunities, several DACA recipients said they had to make tough decisions on whether to stay in the U.S. or travel home to see sick family members. “When you lose someone and you’re an immigrant, what exactly do you do?” said Mayra Garibo, a DACA recipient at California State University who could not visit her father before he died. “The reason that I keep fighting is because I wouldn’t want any other Dreamer to go through what I did. To have someone make that opportunity for you is unfair.”

Matthew O’Brien, director of research at the Federation for Immigration Reform, which advocates for strict limits on immigration, said “It is an open legal question” whether the Department of Homeland Security had the authority to create advance parole.

“The DACA program was an unconstitutional usurpation of Congress’ authority by the executive branch, he said. “Granting advance parole to DACA recipients would only compound the error because no legal authority exists for the president to parole broad categories of foreign nationals into the United States.”

When then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the DACA program on legal grounds in 2017, he said Obama “deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions.”

“This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens,” Sessions said.

DACA’s current status remains in the hands of the federal courts, which have issued three injunctions putting Trump’s executive orders to terminate the program on hold.