A death knell for DACA

Last week, we heard of the death of DACA. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was a bellwether program when it was enacted in 2012 by Executive Order. At that time, we hoped that it would do two things: 1. It would give undocumented young adults breathing room to pursue education and careers while Congress dithered, and 2. it would be a humanizing eye-opening experience for all those Americans who only had cardboard cut-out image of undocumented immigrants.

DACA largely succeeded on both counts. 800,000 students and young professionals were able to continue down very successful paths. They started medical school, became paralegals, finished high school, opened small businesses. They spoke out about their experiences, and in doing so gave the undocumented faces and names. There was a reason that this group, the Dreamers, was chosen as a test case: they’re going places. At least, they were, until last week.

In order to apply for initial or renewal of DACA, applicants must pay a $495 fee, every two years (you can do the math at home, the program has existed since 2012). They must then go through a series of background checks, and be found to have a clear criminal record (no felonies, only 2 minor misdemeanors- loitering? Truancy? Driving without a license? can disqualify an applicant). They must prove that they’ve been physically present for the required amount of time, and that they are either currently enrolled in or have graduated from high school, university, or an accredited degree program. For this effort, they were granted protection from deportation and the right to work legally in the United States for two year stints.

Immigration law is a convoluted place as it is almost entirely reactive. There is very little proactive immigration law enacted, so the Immigration and Nationality Act is more footnotes and court decisions than actual legislation. However, DACA seemed to be a simple fix for a complex issue. Between 2009 and 2011, the DREAM Act came before Congress in various forms. Passage of the bill would have provided a path to citizenship for those who met the same criteria as DACA. Soon after the Senate failed to pass the DREAM Act in 2011, then-President Obama created DACA as a band-aid fix for a group that had not broken any laws (as we don’t hold children accountable for their parents’ actions) and had done everything they could with the resources available to them to succeed.

What has happened is not the President “forcing Congress’ hand.” What has happened here is that the President has manufactured an emergency for 800,000 of our neighbors. There is no compulsion for Congress to act as none of these young adults nor their parents are eligible voters. If they fail to pass immigration reform, members of Congress will suffer minimal consequences from voting constituencies, while hundreds of thousands of families will be destroyed.

Any DACA recipient whose status expires before March 5, 2018 can apply for renewal but must do so before October 5, 2017. Anyone whose status expires on March 6th is out of luck and, six months from today, out of status. This means no more university if they’re in a state that requires legal status in order to attend. This means no more work as they’ll no longer have employment authorization. And, as most DACA recipients are over 18, it means that the day that DACA runs out, they start accruing unlawful presence (accrue enough of that, and any trip outside the US will find you facing a three- or ten-year bar to legal re-entry).

Our system is broken in many ways, but this announcement shows the complete and total lack of compassion and common sense in what passes for immigration policy these days.

About the Author
Whitney Kweskin is the Immigration Services Manager at a local Atlanta refugee resettlement agency. She has a keen interest in immigration policy as it relates to refugees, asylum law, and comprehensive immigration reform. Whitney is actively involved in Limmud Atlanta+SE and in the Jacobson Leadership Institute. Her opinions in this blog are not meant to be representative of New American Pathways.