The executive order signed by President Barack Obama and known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) provided protection from deportation to undocumented minors under the age of 16 if they applied for two-year work permits. DACA does not provide a path to U.S. citizenship, but work permits could be renewed indefinitely if permit holders continued to meet criterion which includes:
· Not being convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor or three misdemeanors
· Being enrolled in high school or college, currently serving in the Armed Forces or Coast Guard or being an honorably discharged veteran of the Armed Forces or Coast Guard
· Continuous residence in the U.S. since June 15, 2012
· Physically residing in the U.S. at the time of making a request for DACA status
On September 4, Donald Trump stated he will phase out DACA unless Congress legislates the program into law. As of the announcement, no new applications will be accepted, and those currently holding DACA permits that will expire between September 5 and March 5, 2018 must apply for renewal by October 5, 2017. According to the White House, DACA participants will be considered low priority for deportation; however, the Trump administration has already expanded enforcement of immigrations laws. All undocumented people, whether former DACA holders or not, may face deportation.
DACA in California
About 800,000 young people currently have DACA status, nationwide. California is home to some 242,339 permit holders. It’s estimated that around half the undocumented students enrolled in California schools are protected by DACA. By state law, students do not need citizenship status to attend California’s public schools or colleges, even without DACA.
Undocumented students—regardless of their status—cannot receive federal aid for education. That includes federally subsidized loans and Pell grants and participation in work-study programs. California has implemented its own assistance programs for undocumented college students, providing grants through the Dream Act which is unrelated to the DACA program.
Changes in the DACA program will not affect the Dream Act grant program or prevent undocumented youth from attending public schools in California. But education is only part of the issue. Without DACA or a path to citizenship, these educated students have little chance of securing legitimate employment. Even if they find a way to stay in the United States, without work permits, opportunities for full economic participation will be limited.
The Promise of Privacy
Applications for DACA permits require the sharing of personal information, including the names and locations of the applicants’ parents and guardians. The original policy regarding this sensitive information guaranteed that nothing would be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE) for the purposes of deportation unless a national security issue or serious crime occurred. This policy is still in place. A change in the policy would require official guidance from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
If you are or know a DACA recipient, these are uncertain times. Congress has several options regarding the status of DREAMers and the DACA program. Pending legislation includes:
· Dream Act, Sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The Dream Act provides many of the same protections as DACA while also creating a path for permanent legal residence.
· Recognizing America’s Children Act, Sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). This bill would also codify much of what’s in DACA and pave the way toward citizenship.
· The American Hope Act, Sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). This bill would provide the easiest and fastest path to citizenship, and has already been signed by 112 congressional Democrats.
· BRIDGE Act, Sponsored by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO). The Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow our Economy Act would essentially extend DACA for three years, allowing Congress time to address more comprehensive immigration reform.
You can support DACA recipients and advocate for just immigration reform by calling the offices of one or more of the above representatives and letting them know you support the legalization of the DACA program. You can also contact the representatives for your district and say you expect them to support DREAMers and work for the legalization of DACA. Lastly, you can send a letter to the White House, letting Trump know how you feel about his decision to possibly terminate the DACA program.