Employers, colleges rush to protect DACA

Employers, colleges rush to protect DACA
© Getty Images

Leading corporations and colleges and universities are mobilizing to protect recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors.  

President Trump is winding down the program over the next six months, saying it’s up to Congress to do something about the nearly 800,000 people who are enrolled.


The average age of a DACA recipient, commonly referred to as a “Dreamer,” is 22; many are attending school, while others are working legally at some of America’s biggest companies.

The group FWD.us, which pushed for Trump to keep the program, estimates that at least 72 percent of the 25 largest-grossing corporations in the United States employ DACA recipients.

Some of those companies are speaking out, vowing that they will stand by their DACA employees.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, has offered to pay the legal bills for any of the company’s 39 employees enrolled in the program should the government try to deport them.

“If Congress fails to act, our company will exercise its legal rights properly to help protect our employees. If the government seeks to deport any one of them, we will provide and pay for their legal counsel,” Smith said in a statement last week, adding that the company would also file briefs in support of the individual employees.

“In short, if Dreamers who are our employees are in court, we will be by their side.”

Similar messages of support have come from colleges and universities.

The University of California, which has 10 campuses throughout the state, quickly filed a lawsuit last week against the Justice Department’s move to end DACA, saying it was based on “nothing more than unreasoned executive whim.”

The lawsuit is being spearheaded by the president of the system, Janet Napolitano, who helped set up the DACA program in 2012 as then-President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaCensus results show White House doubling down on failure Gender politics hound GOP in Cheney drama Never underestimate Joe Biden MORE’s secretary of Homeland Security.

“Neither I, nor the University of California, take the step of suing the federal government lightly, especially not the very agency that I led. It is imperative, however, that we stand up for these vital members of the UC community,” Napolitano said in a statement.

The University of California estimates that it has 4,000 undocumented students enrolled at its colleges, with a large portion of them part of the DACA program.

“To arbitrarily and capriciously end the DACA program, which benefits our country as a whole, is not only unlawful, it is contrary to our national values and bad policy,” she said.

Lawsuits are one route that companies and universities can take to protect DACA recipients. The amount of litigation could grow in the coming months, especially given that few expect Congress will be able to find agreement on an immigration bill before the deadline.

“Although we should all ask Congress to act within six months, we should be prepared for the possibility that it will not do so,” Smith said. “Such a failure would not relieve anyone else in the country of the responsibility to act thoughtfully and wisely. This is why we will work as needed with other companies and the broader business community to vigorously defend the legal rights of all Dreamers.”

If DACA expires in the coming months, employers and schools will have to decide what to do next for those affected. Immigration lawyers say they will have options, as there are other immigrant visas that could be secured.

“Believe it or not, a significant number of these kids can qualify for other kinds of relief from removal, if it is necessary to go down that route,” said Leon Fresco, a partner at Holland & Knight who once led immigration litigation at the Justice Department.

“There are ways for lawyers who have good relationships with the government to move DACA kids onto either non-immigrant visas or other legal statuses, assuming they have the right legal qualifying characteristics,” he said.

One option would be shifting a DACA recipient who is enrolled in college onto a student visa. Once they graduate, Fresco says, the person could potentially move onto an H-1B visa, which is given to specialized workers. 

There are several other visas that also exist and could be used, Fresco added.

While no new applicants for the DACA program are being accepted, those already enrolled can still apply for a two-year renewal of the status before Oct. 5 if their permit expires between now and March 5.

While the future of DACA is uncertain, the deadline for its expiration could give industry attorneys time to mobilize, as they did earlier this year when Trump issued the first version of his travel ban.

“A large number of corporate general counsels were personally very involved in determining their company’s response on the travel ban litigation and communicating those decisions to interested employees, so it is easy to imagine how that network is being jump-started to engage on the fight over DACA,” said Stewart Verdery, founder of public affairs firm Monument Policy Group.