By Elisa Santana
On Tuesday, September 5, the Trump administration announced it would terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. The executive branch will give Congress six months to pass permanent legislation to address DACA recipients, otherwise it will completely phase out the program Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would end the program.
The announcement and public’s response has made DACA a domestic and internationally known acronym.
What led to the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program?
In the early 2000s, federal politicians were tasked with the issue: What should be done with people who were brought to the United States by their parents as children without legal permission, or sent alone as unaccompanied minors? The child may or may not have known while growing up in the United States that they were undocumented.
The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) was first introduced in 2001 to address this issue. The idea was to give youth the opportunity to work legally and obtain higher education without the threat of deportation. Finally in 2010, after being reintroduced multiple times, the DREAM Act came to the U.S. House of Representatives floor for a vote, where it narrowly passed. Soon after its House passage, the DREAM Act failed in the U.S. Senate with a 55-41 vote. This is important because five Democrats at the time voted against the DREAM Act, while three Republicans voted for it.
While Congress and the American public went on with their day-to-day lives, undocumented youth and immigrant advocates waited for relief. 18 months after the failed vote, in June 2012, President Barack Obama announced the DACA program.
The DACA program provides undocumented youth the opportunity to have “deferred action from deportation”. It does not provide a pathway to citizenship, or as some opponents of the program have feared, “amnesty.” Amnesty, in this case, means a blanket pardon extended by the U.S. government where undocumented immigrants obtain citizenship.
It does allow DACA recipients to be considered a low priority for deportation, given their history in the United States and lack of a criminal record. DACA recipients are eligible for a work permit for two years, permitting they have a background check and meet other guidelines:
1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
2. Came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday;
3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action
5. Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
DACA gave many individuals the confidence to speak out about their undocumented status. This concept was deemed as “coming out of the shadows.”
Each one of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have people who have been granted DACA, whose total comes to almost 1 million. Over 90% of DACA recipients are currently employed or in school.
Where do things stand on DACA right now?
Even though the State of Texas has the second highest number of DACA recipients (over 120,000), their state government has led the charge to dismantle DACA. On June 29, 2017, Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, along with nine other state attorneys general and the governor of Idaho, sent a letter to the Trump Administration, threatening to sue the executive branch if they did not make a choice to dismantle DACA by September 5, 2017. The letter stated that “DACA unilaterally confers eligibility for work authorization, id., and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress.” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited similar reasons in his September 5 letter to DHS.
The state of Texas cited their successful lawsuit against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Expanded DACA– noting the same lawyers who sued the Obama Administration, would sue Trump’s Administration. The DAPA case did make it to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, due to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court was tied 4-4. The tied decision left an appeals court’s decision in place, which blocked DAPA and Expanded DACA based on administrative law. The Supreme Court did not make any opinions on presidential power, or unconstitutionality.
The DACA program was established through an Executive Order. This means that President Trump can revoke, modify, or supersede any Executive Order of previous president.In addition, Texas and the other states may have had good reason to believe President Trump would be willing to do so.
On June 16, 2015, during one of his first campaign events, Trump said, “I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration. Immediately.” More than a year later on August 31, 2016, Trump says to a crowd, “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties.” Trump campaigned on the promise to terminate the DACA program and appealed to voters who draw a hardline on immigration. The eleven states threatening to sue Trump over DACA are asking for him to fulfil the promise, which got him elected.
Once in office, Trump picked Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. Sessions has a long history of voting and speaking out against pro-immigration measures. Remember the 2010 DREAM Act vote?– Sessions wrote a letter encouraging his fellow senators to vote against the bill. In his opinion, the DREAM Act rewarded illegal behavior and would give legal status to “gang members” and “aliens with misdemeanor convictions.”
On September 5, Sessions sent a letter to DHS and publicly announced that the Trump administration would phase out DACA. Trump gave Congress a deadline of six months to pass a permanent legislative solution for DACA. The announcement threw the U.S. into a frenzy, with many asking: How could the U.S. government continue to keep young people with undocumented status in limbo?
Congress has not been able to pass legislation on immigration in years, which is why the task ahead is so difficult. In the days after the announcement, President Trump has flip-flopped on the topic. After pledging to phase out DACA on September 5, he said he would revisit the issue if Congress could not pass legislation (September 6). Then in a turn of events, on September 14, Trump said he was working with Democrats on a plan for DACA. The GOP was caught off guard by Trump’s comments, with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan noting that Trump’s plan “’was a discussion, not an agreement.”
Currently, there is a 2017 version of the Dream Act pending in the U.S. Senate. Introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the DREAM Act would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for DACA recipients. It is likely that Republicans will add border security measures to this bill for them to accept its passage.
As far as public opinion goes, a recent poll conducted by Politico shows that 54 percent of voters want Congress to establish a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
For now, people who have received DACA must renew their application by October 5 if it expires between Sept. 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018. The renewal application costs $495, with thousands of applications needing to be filed across the country. Undocumented youth who trusted their private information and pay the lump sum to the Department of Homeland Security will have to decide if it is safe to continue investing in the federal program. The thought that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could use data given for the purpose of applying for DACA in their efforts to deport individuals has become a new fear for some. Both ICE and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are hosted under the Department of Homeland Security.