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DACA: Past, Present and Future

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Brittany Keegan
October 6, 2017

DACA’s history

Beginning in 2012 with an executive order issued by President Obama, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provides temporary relief from the risk of deportation to certain undocumented individuals who were brought to the United States as children. As of September 2017, nearly 800,000 have received protection under this program.

To qualify, individuals must:

  • Have arrived in the United States prior to their sixteenth birthday
  • Have been under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
  • Have continuously resided in the United States from June 15, 2007 to the present
  • Be in school, have graduated with a high school diploma or GED or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces
  • Have not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor

Recipients must also pay $465 in fees and undergo biometric and background checks. However, it is important to note DACA does not provide a path to citizenship for those who qualify. Because it was issued via an executive order rather than through legislation passed by Congress, it is also more at risk for being revoked.

Although the DACA program became official in 2012, debates regarding how to address the issue of undocumented children in the United States have been ongoing. Attempts to pass legislation related to this issue have fallen short, most notably with the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2001. Attempts at creating similar programs, such as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would provide protection to the parents of those who qualified for DACA, were also unsuccessful.

An end to the DACA program?

On September 5, 2017, President Trump announced his decision to end the DACA program with a six-month delay. Although no new applications are being accepted, those received by September 5 are still being processed. Those who are required to renew their DACA status by March 5, 2017 will still be allowed to do so. Many of those in favor of the program hope that this six-month period will allow Congress time to pass more permanent legislation to address this issue.

For some, President Trump’s announcement was welcome news. In June 2017, 10 state attorney generals and one governor sent a letter to U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions requesting the Department of Homeland Security phase out the program. If their request was not honored, they would move forward with a lawsuit to bring about an end to the program.

Others were upset by the announcement. Alejandro Mayorkas, the former director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Serviced, describes the announcement as a “devastating setback… for the youth in our country.” However, he and others remain hopeful Congress will soon pass legislation to allow DACA recipients to remain in the United States. House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement that some form of Congressional action may be likely, saying “It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”

The future of DACA

Though some have discussed the possibility of filing a lawsuit to protect DACA in its current form, the consensus from legal scholars is that DACA would be unlikely to be upheld in court if challenged. Because of this, Congressional action seems to be the best hope for DACA recipients and advocates.

If Congress does decide to pass legislation to keep protections in place for DACA recipients, the legislation could take many forms. One possibility is the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow the Economy (BRIDGE) Act, a bipartisan bill would allow DACA recipients to continue to live and work in the United States; this would be similar to DACA in that it does not provide a path to citizenship. Other proposed legislation includes the Reorganizing America’s Children Act and the American Hope Act, which would provide protections and an eventual path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

In a study of DACA recipients conducted by the Center for American Progress, 97 percent of respondents were currently enrolled in school, while 69 percent were able to find more gainful employment after qualifying. The study also found that the purchasing power of DACA recipients was increasing as DACA recipients began to make larger purchases such as cars and homes. This in turn leads to an increase in taxes paid. In fact, economists believe that the DACA program provides a boost to the economy, although they recognize on an individual level there may be some instances of a DACA recipient holding a job that could otherwise be held by an American citizen.

In making decisions regarding the future of DACA, policy makers would do well to keep in mind the impact their policies will have on the lives of those affected; this includes American citizens, DACA recipients and their families, and those who immigrated to the United States in other ways. The issue is multifaceted and all aspects—legal, economic and moral—should be carefully considered.

Author: Brittany Keegan is a Ph.D. student at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Research interests include conflict studies, nonprofit organizations, immigration policy, and gender-based violence. [email protected]

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