On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced a new policy that allowed certain undocumented youth who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children to be considered for relief from removal from United States or from entering into removal proceedings. This program is known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which was implemented Aug. 15, 2012, and can be renewed every two years. President Obama explicitly stated in his speech that DACA is not “amnesty,” “immunity,” or a “path to citizenship.” As of September 2016, more than 1 million applications had been approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). DACA applicants are required to apply for a working permit and pay a total fee of $465.
DACA is the only gain that President Obama has achieved for undocumented immigrants in his eight-year administration. However, DACA was set up through policy guidelines written by the Secretary of Homeland Security, and there is not even a formal presidential order, so it can be terminated with a stroke of a new secretary’s pen. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the new president-elect has pledged to do.
The stunning disarray on the Trump administration’s to-do list is trivial by now. Trump made immigration restrictions his signature campaign — not to mention building a “great, great wall” on the U.S. southern border. Building a great wall requires Congress to change current laws or spend billions of dollars. In his 10-point plan to put America first, Mr. Trump pledges to “immediately terminate” DACA, which he considers an amnesty.
While it is hard to predict what actions Trump will take as soon as he gets to the White House, he has already selected Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be the next U.S. Attorney General. Senator Sessions is one of the leading opponents of DACA. Another important figure in the Trump administration is Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state of Kansas, who brought a federal lawsuit against President Obama’s executive action in 2012 that did not succeed. Unfortunately, eliminating DACA is an easy and costless action Trump could take to satisfy his supporters who reject President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
DACA protects undocumented youth from being removed from the United States. But most importantly, undocumented students are eligible for work authorization under DACA — an unexplored point by the media. Being able to work legally is crucial for undocumented youth. Although the USCIS does not provide data on DACA receipts’ employment, it is reasonable to think that almost everyone under DACA is working and paying taxes. The program is specifically designed for this, meaning that no one under DACA can apply for unemployment or for any kind of federal or state aid. It would be an unwise choice to pay $465 every two years for a useless document.
The Trump administration seeks to “select immigrants based on their likelihood of success in the U.S.” The more than one million DACA recipients have already been selected: they are currently in school or serving in the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States, they have not committed a felony, and they do not pose a threat to national security or public safety. Instead, they are using their working authorization to enter the workforce to pay for college or support their families. And perhaps they are paying more taxes than the now president-elect.
But DACA was not an easy win. Students across the country have been fighting for Congress to pass the DREAM Act, a bipartisan legislation introduced in 2001 that would provide permanent resident status to immigrants who came to the U.S. as children upon completion of two years of college or service in the military. President Obama promised to fix the immigration system, but Congress has decided not to act on the issue. When announcing the DACA program in June 2012, President Obama said he would put pressure on Congress to pass the DREAM Act because “it is the right thing to do.” However, due to the current political environment, bipartisan support for the DREAM Act or any kind of immigration reform has no hope.
As the next president, Trump is expected to follow up on his campaign promises. If he is consistent with his agenda, he will exercise his authority to cancel DACA, and deport more than one million hardworking students and employees. These students are already terrorized. When they signed up for DACA, they were required to provide identity information — including home addresses, fingerprints, school or employer information, and the names of their parents — to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This information could more easily become a weapon than a shield. DACA recipients placed their trust in President Obama, so it’s his responsibility to make sure that this DACA database does not reach the hands of the new administration for deportation purposes.
DACA recipients are the easiest targets for Trump to satisfy his supporters who reject President Obama’s executive actions. While Americans may not be willing to pay billions of dollars to deport more than one million of undocumented students, the idea that America’s undocumented immigrants would simply go home if government made their lives miserable enough is circulating again among Republicans. Republicans also believe that after deportation, undocumented immigrants can get to “the back of the line.”
The inanity of these ideas is marked by its allure for those who hate illegal immigration: the reality is that the U.S. is the only place these immigrants know as home, where they are currently working and paying taxes in a legal way. In addition, there is no back line for them — once deported, they would likely wait 15 to 20 years or more just to get an interview with a U.S. consular officer. Again, these undocumented youth are active members of the workforce, meaning that they are contributing much to the U.S. economy — a point that most people seem to miss out when talking about immigration.
If DACA recipients’ work permits are canceled or expired, however, these youth immigrants will face cascading consequences — losing jobs, driver’s licenses, professional certificates, and the chance to pay for college. In the worst scenario, they will be deported from the only place they know as home. Their safety and future feels more tenuous again. Although they have never stopped fighting for legal status, they are already protesting in many cities across the country. Education is the key for them, and they will use that as their way to succeed through these difficult times.
Abel Cruz Flores is a second year graduate student at Georgetown University, in the Ph.D program in Spanish linguistics. He graduated from Columbia Gorge Community College Hood River Campus in 2010, paying for his education by picking fruit in the Hood River valley.
He is an advocate for immigration reform and is the vice president of the Georgetown University Graduate Association of Mexican Students (GUGAMS).