By Estarlin Paulino
Since the Trump administration took office in January 2017, immigration has been at the forefront of the administration’s short list on areas to reform and, at times, completely overhaul. From executive orders targeting immigration of refugees to building Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration has been a hotly debated topic. This focus most recently took aim at the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). On September 5, 2017, President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to phase out and end the DACA program. The announcement also called on Congress to create a replacement.
Since the program was first announced on June 15, 2012, DACA has provided temporary relief from deportation, as well as work authorization, to approximately 800,000 undocumented young people across the country. The end of this program puts DACA recipients in danger of deportation. In many cases, this means being deported to countries that they are from, technically speaking, but have never visited or returned to in their own lifetimes.
The Obama administration created the DACA program through executive action in June 2012 after Congress failed to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act—commonly referred to as the DREAM Act. Once the individual’s application for DACA is accepted, the application is valid for a two-year period, and subject to renewal after the two years. DACA recipients are also eligible for work authorization by being provided an employment authorization card. To be eligible for the program, an individual must meet the following requirements:
Was under the age of 31 by June 15, 2012;
Came to the United States before their 16th birthday;
Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
DACA recipients are often called “Dreamers.” The term Dreamers comes from the DREAM Act, which offered legal status in return for attending college or joining the military. The act was first introduced in 2001, but failed to pass congress a number of times. As of today, 97% of the Dreamers are either in school or in the workforce.
Out of the 800,000 Dreamers living in the United States most arrived from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. While popular belief leads many Americans to think that Dreamers are all from Central and South America, there are also a several thousand from Asia, primarily South Korea and the Philippines. Dreamers reside in every state, with the largest concentrations in California (222,795), Texas (124,300), New York (41,970), Illinois (42,376) and Florida (32,795). A federal report updated in March of 2017 shows that 49,712 DACA applications have been approved and renewed in North Carolina, which puts the number of recipients close to 27,385 that have been approved by then. Those numbers put North Carolina as the eighth highest in the country, just below Arizona.
As research has shown, DACA has not only improved the lives of undocumented people and their families, but has also positively affected the economy. While economists have yet to reach a consensus on the total cost to taxpayers that DACA imposes, it is a well-known fact that the cost is offset by the DACA recipients themselves. This is because DACA recipients are required to pay a fee of $495.40. These fees include payment for the application, work permit application and biometrics. The total revenue from fee applications is approximately $366 million. In North Carolina, applicants who have been approved contributed approximately $14 million. The purchasing power of Dreamers also continues to increase. In a 2017 study, nearly two-thirds of respondents, reported purchasing their first car. The data further shows that 16 percent of respondents purchased their first home after receiving DACA.
DACA has opened doors for Dreamers to achieve their academic goals. Impact on education research studies at the state and national level have found that among samples of DACA beneficiaries, the majority of respondents are currently in school. In a 2015 study of more than 2,000 DACA beneficiaries, researchers found that among those who were sampled, 65 percent indicated that they were currently enrolled in school, and of those in school, 70 percent were also employed. Among those currently in school, 72 percent are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher. The majors and specializations that respondents report include biochemistry, business administration, chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer science, early childhood education, economics, environmental science, history, law, mechanical engineering, neuroscience, physics, psychology, and social work, to name a few. Importantly, among those who are currently in school, a 94 percent said that, because of DACA, “I pursued educational opportunities that I previously could not.”
Dreamers are considered a highly organized group of young individuals who argue, after being raised and educated in the United States, they are Americans whose only hold-up is their lack of legal immigration status. This is not the first time when a generation of people, who have been raised and rooted in the U.S., has been stripped of official recognition and pushed into an unauthorized immigrant status. A more recent poll by NBC News/Survey Monkey found that nearly two-thirds of Americans favor allowing the DREAMERS to stay in the U.S. This is not a surprise due to Dreamers not only improving to their own life, but also their contributions to this country. Ending DACA is a cruel act by this administration, because 800,000 lives as well as the lives of their families and friends hang in the balance. DACA’s existence and those protected by it are under serious threat, and understanding the benefits of the program for recipients; their families and communities; and to the nation as a whole is all the more important.