DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was dismantled just recently, on September 5. What does this mean for the lives of the 800,000 DACA recipients that are affected by the change?
DACA is a program, created under the Obama administration in 2012, that grants safety from deportation, or “deferred action” to DREAMERs. DREAMERs are people who, as defined in the failed DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, came to the United States illegally as minors, and have continued residence here. The DREAM Act, proposed by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch in 2001, would have given DREAMERs continued residence in the U.S., with a path to permanent residence through education or military service. The DREAM act failed with 55 out of a required 60 Senate votes. Most Democrats voted yes on the act, calling it a chance for opportunity for those in our younger generation who could not choose their legal status. Other Republicans called the DREAM Act an excuse for widespread amnesty and an encouragement for more illegal immigration; they refused to support any immigration policies before American borders were made more secure. After the act failed, Obama created DACA, which applies to DREAMERs but has a few differences; key among them is the fact that DACA only gives young immigrants deferred action, rather than a path to permanent stay.
POTUS has the power to grant administrative relief, which is a safe haven from deportation for a limited amount of time. It is not a path to citizenship or a green card, or any other type of permanent, legal residence. The reason that the President is allowed to create programs involving administrative relief, such as DAPA and DACA, is that he is the top of the federal executive branch, and is therefore in charge of the U.S.’s immigration and deportation laws. There are about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, but the maximum number of annual deportations possible caps at 400,000. Therefore, the president is tasked with the job of deciding which undocumented people should take priority in deportation, and which should be allowed conditional or eventually permanent stay.
Critics of DACA have called Obama’s program unlawful; this is because he created DACA without consulting Congress first. Although Obama was well within his presidential rights to do this, some think he should have run the idea through the legislative branch. When Obama tried to expand DACA and create a program called DAPA (for undocumented parents of citizens), several states sued, and the Supreme Court was divided, leaving the appeals court to block Obama’s plans. DACA opposers see this as a sign that DACA is an overstep of executive power; others also think that the program could be an incentive for parents to bring undocumented children to the country.
Supporters of DACA say that it protects minors that were unable to make decisions for themselves when coming with their parents to the U.S.. DREAMERs already have established lives in the States, and are contributing members of the economy and society; DACA supporters are adamant about the adverse effect a repeal of the program could have on the lives, security, and safety of innocent people.
President Trump has, since his campaign, promised to end DACA on “day one” of his presidency. Nine months later, on September 5, he and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formal phasing out of the program. They both voiced concerns about how undocumented immigrants— whom Sessions described as “illegal aliens” — were, according to the President, “victimizing native-born Americans” by taking jobs and lowering pay rates.
The backlash to this decision was severe. Ex-President Barack Obama criticized Trump’s decision as “cruel” and “wrong”; he wrote on Facebook that the repeal “[threatens] the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us.” Trump has put the future of DACA into the hands of Congress, who have six months to make a decision on whether or not to keep and modify, or simply repeal the program. He Tweeted, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!” In the Tweet, Trump mentioned wanting to “legalize” DACA— a turnaround from his previous opinions. Later, he stated his “love” for the recipients of the program; some see the statement as hypocritical based on his previous opinions.
If a DACA recipient has a permit which expires on/before March 5, 2018, it can be renewed for two years if that person applies before October fifth, 2017. Once their permits expire, DACA holders will lose work permits and driver’s licenses; this is troubling for the futures of recipients who are their families’ sole providers. There is also concern for the mental health of DACA recipients who now do not know what the future holds. Liz Robbins from The New York Times describes students unable to focus in class, feeling overwhelming shock and helplessness; many college and high schools have formed support groups or referred students to social workers and therapists to help them cope with sudden uncertainty in their futures.
On September 13, Trump and Democrats in Congress revealed a deal outline that stated DREAMERs would be allowed to stay in the country in exchange for increased border security, not including his promised wall. Some Republicans were frustrated by the deal, thinking that Trump is working against his own policies, and with the party out of power— Paul Ryan stated, “The president understands he has to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution.” Other Republicans support Trump’s efforts; Senator Mitch McConnell stated that he and others “look forward to receiving the Trump administration’s legislative proposal.”
However, early the next morning, Trump contradicted himself on Twitter, tweeting, “No deal was made last night on DACA.” In the same stream of tweets, he praised young undocumented immigrants for being “good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs”, but then asserted that his border wall “will continue to be built”. His mixed signals on DACA leave his decision on its future uncertain for the time being.
How does Trump’s actions on DACA affect Highland Park and its schools? Highland Park is a small town teeming with people of different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, as well as different legal statuses. The new administration’s views on illegal immigration could change the lives of countless Highland Park residents. I interviewed Polly Minden, ‘21, a strong DACA supporter and full of consternation for her affected peers. She states, “”
I asked Phoebe Chong, ‘18, about how Trump’s decision affects her, a DACA recipient. She stated, “As a recent daca recipient, i have been promised with a future I [can] create here in the US. Now that DACA has been dismantled, all those promises mean absolutely nothing to me. All i can do is to pretend that everything I have worked for will pay off one day, when hopefully, our president opens his eyes and sees the 800,000 precious immigrants who built our nation.” Her life is one of many in our community that is now filled with uncertainty and fear.
Although the government has taken several steps, in several directions, towards both the repeal and legalization of DACA, the future of the program and its recipients remains up in the air.