Undocumented youth in the United States remain in legal limbo as courts argue the DACA program’s legality. The following article was published in the November-December 2023 issue of NewsNotes.
On Sept 13, U.S. Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas decided that the Biden administration’s attempt to reinstate and “fortify” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was unlawful, bringing the 580,000 people in the program, known as “dreamers,” a step closer to deportation. While the court maintained a partial stay, not yet revoking the benefits assured those who received their Deferred Action prior to July 16, 2021, new applications for DACA still cannot be processed and DACA recipients remain vulnerable to political and legal threats.
President Obama established DACA by executive order in 2012 to protect from deportation nearly a million undocumented youth who arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday. It also allows DACA recipients to legally obtain social security numbers, driver’s licenses, and work authorizations.
The executive order was modeled after the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill first introduced in 2001 that never passed due to decades of congressional dysfunction. DACA had many of the same features of the DREAM act except a pathway to citizenship that only Congress has the power to provide. Undocumented youth who arrived as children and meet the stringent criteria outlined in both the DACA order and DREAM Act are often referred to as “dreamers” because of the DREAM act.
DACA has been challenged since its inception. President Trump repeatedly tried to dismantle it. In 2017, his administration halted new applications until Judge Nicholas Garaufis of the US District Court in Brooklyn, New York, ruled in December 2020 that the administration had to allow first-time applications.
Six months later, however, Judge Hanen of Texas ruled that DACA was unlawful and had been since 2012. The court stayed the worst effects of ending the program by allowing people with DACA already to continue renewing their protections. Now, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is permitted to accept new DACA applications but not to grant applications, leaving applicants in limbo.
On August 24, 2022, the Biden administration appealed for a “final rule” on DACA in an attempt to “fortify and reinstate” DACA by moving the policy through a more rigorous policy process, including rounds of review and public comment. The aim was to address the legal deficiencies from the 2012 version of DACA that was ruled unlawful. It was this “final rule” by the Biden administration that Judge Hanen rejected this past September.
Since its inception in 2012, DACA has allowed over 500,000 young people to remain in the only country many of them have ever known. Most dreamers arrived on U.S. soil before the age of ten. To qualify, applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16; have lived continuously in the U.S. for at least five years; be in school, have a high school degree, GED, or honorable discharge from coast guard or armed forces; and no felony convictions or more than three misdemeanors of any kind. DACA recipients work in various public and private sectors and contribute to the US’s development and economic growth.
The Biden administration will likely appeal Judge Hanen’s ruling, but until the decision is overturned, DACA recipients remain in a precarious legal situation. One dreamer from Fort Worth Texas, Itzayana Aguirre, told Kera news in north Texas, “I grew up here. I want to live here. My family’s here. I bought a house here. I’m investing in staying in this country, but it’s almost like they don’t want me here, and it’s difficult to deal with that.”
A true solution to the legal mire undocumented youth find themselves in would be the passage of a law. Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina introduced the Dream Act of 2023, which would give dreamers the chance to receive lawful permanent resident status. However, its passage in the House of Representatives seems far from certain.
According to a February 2022 poll, almost 80% of registered U.S. voters would support bipartisan immigration reform that strengthens border security, creates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children, and ensures a legal, reliable workforce for America.
Senator Durbin says, “Dreamers are teachers, nurses, and small business owners in our communities, but because DACA hangs by a thread in the courts, they live in constant fear of deportation. It is clear that only Congress can give them the stability they deserve. Therefore, we call on Congress to do right with DACA.”
Faith in Action
Tell Congress to protect dreamers by passing the DREAM Act of 2023 https://mogc.info/DREAMERS2023
Photo from Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns 2017