Story at a glance
- DACA is an Obama-era program that protects nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants, many of whom have spent the majority of their lives in the U.S., from deportation.
- In September 2017, President Trump announced he would be winding the program down.
- On Thursday the Supreme Court ruled in favor of maintaining the program, meaning recipients will get to continue to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation.
Thursday morning, hundreds of thousands of DREAMers waited with bated breath to hear the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — a decision that would ultimately affect the rest of their lives. They could let out a sigh of relief after the nation’s highest court ultimately blocked the Trump administration's attempt to end the program, with a 5-4 ruling that allows DACA recipients to continue to renew membership in the program and remain in the country, for now.
The historic decision is one that DACA recipients across the United States have been anxiously awaiting for years, after President Trump ordered an end to the program back in September of 2017.
“Today’s victory belongs to the undocumented youth movement,” Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy for the ACLU tells Changing America. “They fought for Congress to consider multiple versions of the Dream Act, for President Obama to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the expanded DACA program, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, and for the issue to win the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Americans.”
As it stands now, DACA shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation, many of whom arrived in the U.S. at a young age under circumstances beyond their control. Since the program was established in 2012 by President Obama more than 700,000 have enrolled and subsequently been granted a renewable two-year deferral from deportation. Applicants are also eligible for work permits, driver’s licenses and health insurance. The elimination of the DREAM Act, which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, would make recipients eligible for deportation and rescind their access to education and work visas.
Who are the DREAMers?
The recipients of DACA are primarily young people — the average age is 26 — who grew up in the United States and identify as Americans. Many speak only English and have a minimal recollection of their country of origin. Despite this and the fact that some recipients have lived in the U.S. since the age of 6 or younger, most are still unable to gain legal residency under current immigration laws.
Of the 649,070 active DACA recipients, 80 percent, or more than 500,000, are from Mexico, while nearly 9 percent are from Central America, according to USCIS data. Most DACA recipients live in Southwestern states — California has the highest number of DREAMers with nearly 185,000, followed by Texas with around 107,000 and Arizona ranks sixth with just under 25,000.
In the years since these young undocumented immigrants were brought to the U.S., many have also had children of their own in America, bought homes, graduated from college and now hold jobs in a variety of industries. In fact, an estimated 29,000 of them are health care workers — a role considered especially critical during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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The deportation of DREAMers would also put into question the status of their children, as there are about 254,000 kids born in the U.S. who have at least one DACA parent, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. DACA recipients contribute to the country’s economic health in a variety of ways, with about 56,100 of them owning homes and paying $566.9 million annually in mortgage payments, while others pay $2.3 billion in rent each year, according to the same study. The households of DACA recipients pay a collective $5.6 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes each year.
The application process
According to multiple surveys, many DREAMers claim they didn’t realize they were unauthorized immigrants until they reached an age to begin filling out official forms such as college and drivers license applications, realizing they didn’t have Social Security numbers.
To be granted eligibility for the program, applicants had to have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and lived here since June 15, 2007. DACA applicants are also required to provide evidence they were living in the U.S. at the prescribed times, proof of education or military enrollment and confirmation of their identities. Applicants also had to pass background, fingerprint and other biometric checks that record identifying biological features and could not have a criminal record.
Once applicants are deemed eligible, they are allowed to remain in the country for two years, subject to renewal, and must pay a fee of $495 every two years to request DACA.
The success of the program
DACA has, so far, largely been seen as successful, with 91 percent of respondents reported as being currently employed, according to a 2017 national study. Their average hourly wage is $17.46 an hour, up from $10.29 before receiving DACA, and 45 percent of respondents are currently in school with 72 percent pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Despite this success, DREAMers are still subject to constant uncertainty about their immigration status, as well as racial discrimination. One recipient who has lived in Tucson, Ariz., since the age of two, Brayann Lucero, had his status expire in May, according to a recent story by Arizona Public Media. Lucero was in the middle of renewing his DACA status when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asked him to check in to a field office in Tucson, and his family was was told they must pay a $12,000 bond to keep Lucero, who suffers from the autoimmune disorder lupus, out of detention.
After a rally was held for Lucero, he was fitted with an ankle monitor and sent home. While his lawyer, Mo Goldman, counts Lucero’s release as a win, his immigration case is still pending and a tentative court date has been set for July.
Public support for DACA recipients and its future
According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, three-quarters of all U.S. adults support granting permanent legal immigration status to DREAMers. Among Democrats, an overwhelming 91 percent of respondents support granting permanent legal status, while Republicans are more split, with 54 percent in favor and 43 percent against.
Hispanics are the most likely to support permanent status for DREAMers with 88 percent in support. The lowest number is among white respondents, whose support is at 69 percent, while 82 percent of African American respondents and 72 percent of Asian respondents support it.
The latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll even indicates that 71 percent of conservatives, 64 percent of those who approve of the job Trump is doing and even 69 percent of those who voted for Trump in 2016 say that DACA recipients should be protected from deportation.
Despite the overwhelming public support and Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, it does not prevent President Trump from once again attempting to end the program. Although his administration is unlikely to be able to end DACA before the upcoming presidential election, experts say.
“The Trump administration could try to end DACA, again. We hope that instead Trump and Stephen Miller will listen to the courts and the American people and end their crusade,” says Flores. “However, the very fact that this threat exists underscores the need for the Senate to pass the American Dream and Promise Act — the easiest way for all DACA recipients to be permanently protected. The House of Representatives passed it months ago, and it would end the legal limbo Dreamers have faced for years. Everyone should contact their Senator today and urge them to bring the legislation up for a vote.”
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