The fate of Dreamers is in jeopardy due to uncertainty over DACA

Protesters gather in El Paso, Texas, January 13, 2018. Credit: EFE/Alberto Ponce de León.

By Karlha Velasquez Rivas

The situation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is on the table. The Supreme Court has the power to eradicate or keep the program alive, a program that, since being created back in 2012, has benefited over 800,000 immigrants with the opportunity of getting a job. The uncertainty of Dreamers and lawyers, who are on high alert for any news, can be felt in the air.

Since the moment that President Donald Trump’s administration announced the end of DACA in 2017, protests and speculation on the fate of Dreamers was showcased in the media. Trump had said it was an illegal program.

At the time, an opinion poll by Morning Consult and Politico in April 2017 showed that “78% of voters in the U.S. supported giving Dreamers the possibility of permanently remaining in the country, including 73% of Trump voters.”

Trump had promised to eliminate the program, with no solution given to those that had grown up in this country. If the program is canceled and Dreamers are not allowed to remain here, that would cost Nebraska over $150,2 million a year in the gross domestic product (GDP), and $460,3 billion for the country. Add the thousands of canceled work permits, and the massive rounds of deportations that would follow.

But there could also be an extension of the DACA – perhaps due to the current pandemic – and a renewal of work permits without a way of adjusting a person’s legal status. The last potential scenario, and the most promising one, has Dreamers becoming residents in hopes of obtaining citizenship.

What is DACA?

The DACA program gives unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 years old (called Dreamers) the opportunity to remain in the country under specific circumstances, such as going to school and having no criminal record. Those who meet the requirements can have access to a work permit and be protected from deportation for two years, a benefit that must be renewed before the period has ended.

The program is not a path towards obtaining citizenship, nor does it change their legal status in the country, so it’s a sort of limbo.

In an interview from November 2019, lawyer Alexis Steele, from the Immigrant Legal Center (ILC), who has studied the cases of Dreamers in Omaha, considers that if the program is eradicated, it would completely devastate the community. “They would lose their job permits. This wouldn’t happen immediately since they would still be valid until their expiration date,” she said.

Under this hypothetical scenario, she hopes that a new path is created to allow those who have been in this country and see it as their own can update their legal status since they don’t know any other place. “People who have DACA don’t have any other alternative to remain in the country and have a life. Nobody wanted to choose DACA, but it was the only option,” said the jurist

DACA recipient protest in Omaha against Trump’s. announcement. Photo: Bernardo Montoya.

She explained that not all Dreamers are in the DACA program and that some could not register for the program in time before Trump decided to stop all new applications in 2017. By then, there were 800,000 young individuals who had applied for the program and who had been approved, but the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) only registered 689,800 active individuals.

According to the most recent stats (November 2017) from USCIS, Nebraska has 3,070 active Dreamers, out of which 1,500 are located in Omaha and Council Bluffs. There are 688,860 active Dreamers in the country. This means that the new number is lower because some have had a chance in their immigration status, or they simply have not renewed their protection.

A program that is not new at all 

Steel explained that DACA is not a new program, because, for years, undocumented immigrants have been placed in this sort of limbo. “When an undocumented person living in the country is the victim of a crime, they can apply for a T visa or a U visa, but those are limited for each year. So when you don’t know where to place someone, or there’s no time for searching for the right legal status, the deferred action can be used so that they’re not removed or deported from the country,” she mentioned.

Deferred action has existed since 1975. Under this legal branch of Immigration Law, President Ronald Reagan created the Family Fairness program in 1987, which was extended under the administration of George Bush Sr. in 1990. The program’s objective was to “not separate eligible families of immigrants” because of the immigration reform (IRCA) of 1986. In that year, an immigrant who had consecutively been in the country since January 1st, 1982, that is, who had remained in the country for four years without leaving, could be eligible for permanent residency. However, they had to select a single family member, be that a spouse or a son, under certain conditions, to be in the U.S., possibly under a “wait-in-line” status, and this did not mean said person could not be deported.

This paradox was cause for discussion, and the catholic church and Latino groups intervened to argue that 30% of the 3 million who applied to bring their families together would be separated under the aforementioned circumstances.

On June 15, 2012, Obama announced DACA during a speech at the White House and said: “Now, let’s be clear — this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people (…) this is what we have to do because it’s something temporary,” published The Washington Post.

This program, under the Dream Act, allows some undocumented immigrants, who were brought to the country since 2007 while being under 16 years of age, and who have lived in the country ever since, to obtain work permits, health coverage, and a driver’s license, as well as keeping them from being deported, and granting the possibility of applying for a social security number, which was not guaranteed. All this as long as they met the requirements for the program and did not have a criminal record. The program did not provide a path towards citizenship for those who applied.

Also, another program was announced on November 20, 2013, under President Obama’s administration, the Differed Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which was compared with the Family Fairness program. This granted an opportunity for immigrant parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents to be protected from deportation, as long as they had consecutively been in the country since 2010.

The program was lost to the wind since it did not go into effect. And in 2017, President Trump’s administration decided to remove it from the list of priorities that could have solved the legal status of many undocumented parents in the country.

The Trump administration argued that it was “clandestine amnesty” and declared that Obama overstepped his authority by protecting a specific type of immigrants who live illegally in the country, said aldíadallas.

The November hearing

While some want to cut the program, others want to extend it. On November 12 of last year, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on three cases on DACA. Arguments were heard in a packed room for roughly 80 minutes on cases from California, the District of Columbia, and New York, with representatives arguing that Trump’s decision to end DACA “violated the Administrative Procedure Act.”

U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco asked the argued for the government, arguing to the Justices to stay out of the fray because the government’s decision was not a matter subject to judicial review.

Theodore Olson, who argued on behalf of DACA recipients and civil rights groups, told the Justices that they should start with a “strong presumption” that a federal agency’s actions are reviewable. But the Justices refuted by asking Olson under which criteria he made that suggestion.

Meanwhile, “Olson and Michael Mongan, California’s Solicitor General, agreed that the case should be sent back. Olson emphasized that the Trump administration was required to provide an ‘accurate, reasoned, rational, and legally sound explanation’ for its decision to end DACA but ‘utterly failed to do so’ because it did not want to take responsibility for the decision, preferring to blame it on Congress and the courts,” published the Scoutusblog.

The discussion centered on legality and illegality, if it should or should not be sent back, but what was made clear at Court was that the government did not like DACA. But the U.S. Solicitor General remained firm in his stance that the decision to end DACA remains with the government.

Every case has its own peculiarity.

The way a DACA beneficiary entered the country will definite the paperwork it must fill out, that is, if said person entered with a visa or without one, and they can apply for some changes to their legal status that the ILC will help them solve, said Steele.

Those who entered with a visa and got married to a U.S. citizen won’t need to leave the country, which is not the same for those who entered without a visa.

This last example was the case of Luceli Pacheco, from Mexico, who, in an interview with El Perico, said she had arrived in the country when she was four years old. “I was brought here by my parents and have been here ever since. We first were in California, but when I was around eight years old, we moved to Nebraska, and have lived here ever since,” said the now 30-year-old Dreamer.

Before DACA, Pacheco was studying to obtain her Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and Communication Studies. However, she didn’t have a work permit to practice her profession. When the program was announced, she didn’t think twice and applied, and she’s had a work permit ever since, which she has renewed every two years by paying a $500 renewal fee.

And just like her, there are around 700,000 Dreamers who are also hard-working, waiting for the decisions that Donald Trump’s administration will take. We must not forget that these Dreamers have contributed to the country’s economy by being part of its workforce.

A new day will soon be upon us.

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