The ups and downs of DACA

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. 

*Elisa Santana is a guest researcher at the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research (BIM) and a German Chancellor Fellow supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Elisa previously worked for at the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington; she advised on immigration, refugees, homeland security, and civil liberties.


Sources and Further Reading
DREAM Act of 2011, US Congress
DREAM Act dies in Senate, Politico, Sept. 2010
Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), US Citizenship and Immigration Services
Number of Form I-821D,Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, by Fiscal Year, Quarter, Intake, Biometrics and Case Status Fiscal Year 2012-2017, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (March 2017)
Results from Tom K. Wong1 et al., 2017 National DACA Study, Center for American Progress, 2017
Re: Texas, et al. v. United States, et al., No. 1:14-cv-00254 (S.D. Tex.), Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, letter to Us Attorney General Jeff Sessions (June 29, 2017)
Jeff Sessions Letter Advising an End to DACA, reprinted in The New York Times, Sept. 5 2017
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Big Immigration Case Wasn’t About Presidential Power, Peter M. Shane, The Atlantic, June 2016
Here’s What President Trump Has Said About DACA in the Past [w/ video], Time Magazine, Sept. 2017
Letter from then-Senator Jeff Sessions regarding the DREAM ACT 2010, reprinted in Politico, Dec. 2010
S. 1615 DREAM Act 2017, US Senate
Poll: Majority wants Congress to establish path to citizenship for DACA recipients, Politico, Sept. 2017
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals 2017 Announcement, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Sept. 2017
Dreamers’ new risk after Daca: US could use their personal data to target them, The Guardian, Sept. 2017
Header Image; LA March for Immigrants Rights (Sept. 2017) via Molly Adams on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2femn2E (CC by 2.0)
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UK Parties Clash Over International Students

With the UK General election in less than two weeks, the gap is narrowing between the two largest parties, the Conservatives led by current prime minister Theresa May and the Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn. As we concluded in our analysis of the two parties’ manifestos, their massively different views indicate that this will be a uniquely impactful election for Britain’s immigration system. Adding to the mix three parties that are staunchly opposed to ending free movement, which will almost certainly be part and parcel of Brexit, and you have a volatile set of possibilities for people living in the UK from EU countries as well. One of the groups at the center of the controversy over migration is international students, who stand to be targeted by big changes if the Conservative party is victorious. MV takes a deep dive to understand what’s happening.

The Issue

Students from all over the world vie for the chance to study in the UK, home to some of the world’s top universities. In 2015-2016, over 2 million students studied in undergraduate or post-graduate programs in the UK, and over 231,000 were students from other countries- including some 59,100 from the EU, according to HESA, an agency providing official statistics on the subject of higher education in the UK.

Ivy Bar43 South St. North Carolina (1)

As can be seen, international students make up circa 10% of total higher education students in the UK (this includes both graduate level and post-graduate level students.)

However, this total covers students total in the UK, so it is not an accurate reflection of yearly immigration by people seeking to study in the country. That number, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) was 136,000 for 2016 – down 36,000 from the prior year.

The numbers of both students generally and incoming students from abroad have remained relatively stable over the last years, but since at least 2010 international students have come under political focus by politicians promising to reduce migration levels. The debate was rekindled this year as British Parliament tackled widespread reforms to British higher education through the Higher Education and Research Act of 2017, partially in response to Brexit.

Brexit, International Students, and the Higher Education and Research Act

Following the referendum result, there was significant concern awakened about what the British exit from the EU would mean for the higher education system. With multiple links with Europe at stake, through students, research grants, joint programs and more, some feared Brexit would make Britain a less desirable destination for students, or leave current international students with huge uncertainty over their status and ability to remain in the UK. British students could also be at risk of losing university spots in the EU, or being unable to access the popular Erasmus program. The multi-partisan House of Commons Committee on Education was tasked with evaluating the situation and making recommendations for the government’s course on higher eduction after Brexit. The resulting report covers a wide range of topics, but is fairly clear in its endorsement for a university sector as open as possible to international students from the EU and beyond.

intl students1

Around the same time, Parliament mulled the Higher Education and Research Act, a bill meant to tackle widespread challenges to the system and provide stability and quality oversight for the univeristy and research sector. During debate over the bill at the House of Commons, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Joseph Johnson (who is, notably, a Conservative party member) emphasized that the bill would not change course on the topic:

I reiterate that the Government value and welcome international students who come to study in the UK. We recognise that they enhance our educational institutions, both financially and culturally, enrich the experience of domestic students, and become important ambassadors for the UK in later life. It is for those reasons that we have no plan to limit the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the United Kingdom. I need to be very clear that that commitment applies to all institutions. We have no intention of limiting any institution’s ability to recruit genuine international students. We have no plans to cap the number of genuine students who can come to the UK to study, or to limit an institution’s ability to recruit genuine international students based on its TEF rating or on any other basis.

The bill was passed by royal assent in late April with no limits to international students or discussion of including those students in the migration targets. Now, the Conservative manifesto (which we explored in more detail here) has reopened the debate by proposing to include international students in their net migration target after all.

Tories Stand Alone

One of the key promises the Conservative Party makes in its manifesto is to cap migration numbers, down from current levels (they cite circa 270,000 annually) to under 100,000 entrants per year. As part of this reduction, they are the only party to explicitly promise to include international students in their count of “migrants” (page 54).

We will toughen the visa requirements for students, to make sure that we maintain high standards. We will expect students to leave the country at the end of their course, unless they meet new, higher requirements that allow them to work in Britain after their studies have concluded. Overseas students will remain in the immigration statistics – in line with international definitions – and within scope of the government’s policy to reduce annual net migration.

No matter how you reckon this, it would mean a decrease in visas issued for international students. Whether taking the overall figure or the number of visas issued yearly, it alone is already higher than 100,000: meaning even if they made no decreases to family reunification or work migration, there would be decreases here. Who will make up for these missing places? The Conservatives offer a clue in their section on “Prosperous Towns and Cities Across Britain”:

… we want to see universities make their full contribution to their local community and economy, sponsoring local schools and being creative about how they can open up opportunities for local people, especially those from ordinary working backgrounds.

In addition to reducing student places and toughening requirements for student visas, the Conservatives also commit to increasing the Immigration Health Surcharge for international students to  £450 “to cover their use of the NHS.” Studying the manifesto, we haven’t found anything to suggest these changes will not also apply to people from the EU who wish to study in the UK. Indeed, given their stance that migration from the EU must be controlled and reduced, it is logical to conclude that students from the Eurozone are embraced in these policies as well.

It’s interesting that the Conservatives have taken this stance on international students. It goes against the recommendations of the Committee on Education, whose six Conservative party members make up a majority of the 11-member strong committee.

It also contradicts the stance of Conservative Minister Joseph Johnson who we quoted above saying that government has no intention of reducing students or restricting freedom of movement.

It also sets them apart from every other party, including the strongly anti-immigrant UKIP.

Where the other parties stand

In their election manifesto, UKIP pointedly criticizes the “failure” of the Tories on immigration, saying they are “the only party with the political will and the plan to cut immigration.” In their plan, they envision an Australian-style points system with visas for students included, and immigration halved over a five year period to reach a goal of zero net immigration. Students, they say, will be welcomed, but abuse won’t be tolerated. Its unclear what this concretely means for student visa numbers, but UKIP does not seem to spell out cuts to the sector explicitly.

For the other top parties, there is relative unanimity on the subject.

Labour “welcomes international students who benefit and strengthen our education sector, generating more than £25 billion for the British economy and significantly boosting regional jobs and local businesses. They are not permanent residents and we will not include them in immigration numbers, but we will crack down on fake colleges.

Liberal Democrats will “recognising their largely temporary status, remove students from the official migration statistics.”

Greens will “protect freedom of movement, press for remaining within the single market, and safeguard vital rights for people and the environment.”

SNP: “will continue to make the case for the reintroduction of a Post-Study Work Visa scheme for Scotland, to enable international students who come here to study to then stay and contribute to our society and economy after they graduate.”

The public would appear to back a welcoming stance towards international students. In a poll published in April of this year by ComRes for Universities UK, a majority (64%) of British adults consider international students a benefit to the economy, and only 26% consider international students “migrants” when it comes to government immigration policy. (Full study can be downloaded here.) Back in 2014, a poll on the same topic found that 66% of  people who vote Conservative are opposed to reducing student numbers.

So why are Tories fixed on reducing International Students?

It is somewhat confusing as to why the Conservative party manifesto takes such a strong tack against international students, when public opinion, members of their own party, and universities themselves take the opposite position.

It is possible that the party is not so much concerned about students at university as they are about the ties that form during this period. People who study abroad form relationships and meet partners, gain employment opportunities or make connections with communities that may entice them to stay indefinitely rather than just for the period of their study. In that way, students from other countries always have the potential to become indelibly tied to their university and the country it is in, even if only a small percentage actually stays.

In this way it seems that the Conservatives are embracing a view of migration that makes little distinction between lawful and unlawful, skilled and unskilled. If even star students are considered a risk that must be controlled and reduced, it sends a message about other types of immigration that people consider even less desirable. It signals that the Conservatives have become the party that is tough on immigrants, with no exceptions.


Sources and Further Reading
MV Coverage of the British General Election
Statistics on Students and Graduates, HESA
Migration Statistics Quarterly Report, Office for National Statistics, May 2017
Brexit: What will it mean for universities, students, and academics? Dame Julia Goodfellow, The Telegraph, July 2016
Higher Education and Research Act of 2017, UK Parliament
Exiting the EU: Challenges and Opportunities for Higher Education, House of Commons Education Committee, April 2017
Debate in House of Commons, April 2017
Manifestos: Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP
Public Perceptions of International Students Survey, ComRes, April 2017
International Students and the UK Migration Debate, Universities UK, 2014
Header Image via Chris Robinson on Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2rnz9kK