Graduation season has arrived. After many years of hard work, students are eager to pursue their future careers. For DACA students, however, the promise of a bright future fades away as their DACA protection phases out.
On June 15, 2012, the United States Department of Homeland Security implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, to allow undocumented students who came to America as children to request consideration of “deferred action” and eligibility for work authorization. The Obama Administration saw undocumented students as a low priority for deportation, and DACA aimed to protect those who met the criteria. Importantly, DACA only protects students from deportation from the U.S. for a two-year period, subject to renewal, but this program does not grant legal status to undocumented students. In other words, DACA students are not eligible for any kind of federal financial aid to attend college or to enroll in the healthcare system; only a work authorization card may be granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The nature of DACA, however, has taken different directions, and the future of students protected under DACA, known as Dreamers, remains uncertain. Five years after its implementation, the DACA program was rescinded on Sept. 5, 2017, by the Trump Administration. Starting Sept. 5, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland announced that it would not accept new applications for DACA, but students whose DACA expired between Sept. 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018, could apply for renewal as long as they did so before Oct. 5, 2017. The six-month phase-out of DACA gave Congress an opportunity to find a permanent solution to protect the Dreamers, and the immigration debate in general. After the rescission of DACA, Dreamers and supporters took the streets across the country urging Congress to pass the DREAM Act, a legislative law that would put DACA students and other Dreamers in a path to citizenship. Yet no bipartisan agreement was achieved before March 5, 2018, and DACA was, as the president put it, “a dead deal.”
The rescission of DACA was not a surprise to many. During his campaign, Trump had pledged to terminate the program in his first 100 days in office, arguing that the program was “unconstitutional” and “unlawful.” The rescission of DACA, however, raised many questions regarding the president’s contradictory decision. Immigration advocates found the president’s decision “arbitrary” and “capricious,” and several lawsuits were filed challenging the termination of the DACA program. The first lawsuit was filed by the same person who issued the memorandum granting DACA protection to undocumented students on June 15, 2012, Janet Napolitano, then Secretary of Homeland Security and current president of the University of California system. A second lawsuit was filed by the State of New York, among other 14 states, including Oregon.
On Jan. 9, 2018, a federal judge for the Northern District of California ordered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to maintain the DACA program on a nationwide basis on the same terms and conditions in place before the rescission on Sept. 5, 2017. On Feb. 13, 2018, a second federal judge for the Eastern District of New York also ordered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to keep DACA in place since the department failed to offer legally adequate reasons for ending the DACA program, although the department does not have to accept new applications or grant advance parole (a permit that would allow DACA recipients to re-enter the country after traveling abroad). As of now, individuals who were granted DACA before its rescission on Sept. 5, 2017, can still renew their DACA status.
Whether the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will take new DACA applications is unclear. On April 24 this year, a federal judge for the District of Columbia gave the department 90 days to provide adequate reasons for ending DACA. If the department fails to provide the requested evidence, it will have to accept and process new as well as renewal DACA applications after the 90-day period. In other words, we have to wait for further notifications on whether USCIS will take new applications or not. However, an individual who is currently protected under DACA can renew DACA. In fact, USCIS encourages renewal requestors to file as early in the 150-day period as possible — ideally at least 120 days prior to the DACA expiration date.
The Trump Administration gave Congress a six-month window to replace DACA with legislation, but Congress failed to find a permanent solution for the Dreamers. In fact, our own Rep. Greg Walden failed to deliver the community’s support for our DACA students. While Walden seems to be busy advocating for the President Trump’s policies that are systematically dismantling every aspect of government that works for the benefit of the public, I would like to remind him that many Dreamers reside in the 2nd District of Oregon and attend the same high school that his son attended, and many aspire to pursue a college career at the same university that Walden himself attended. Why not allow them to pursue their dreams? Why not speak on their behalf? It is truly unfortunate that Walden has remained silent on supporting Dreamers when he explicitly recognizes that “it is up to Congress to find a permanent solution.”
DACA opened an opportunity for undocumented students to pursue professional careers in medicine, law, engineering, and the arts, among others. DACA has been in place for five years, and many DACA recipients are graduating this spring. However, at this moment, it is uncertain whether graduating high school students protected under DACA will be able to pursue college careers or whether the Doctor of Medicine will finish residency since many have already lost protection under DACA and others are only protected for a two-year period. Despite the disappointing news, Dreamers remain optimistic. They have been fighting for a path to citizenship since the introduction of the DREAM Act in 2001, and they will continue to strive and amaze this nation with their talents and perseverance for a better future.
Their stories will continue to be told until Congress agrees to offer stability for these young, talented, and hardworking students.
Abel Cruz Flores is a PhD student at Georgetown University. He graduated from Columbia Gorge Community College Hood River Campus in 2010. He is an advocate for immigration reform.