Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard a lot of talk about DACA, whether it be from trending hashtags, news headlines, or elected officials. But what exactly is DACA, and how does it affect you as well as those around you? Luckily, I have some experience with the program. I’m a DREAMer, a recipient of DACA.
DACA is the acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an immigrant policy established by the Obama administration via executive order in June 2012. The U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) began taking applications in August of that year. DACA grants deferred action from deportation to certain young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. The program also allows those individuals to receive work permits. Rarely, it also grants the ability for some to travel abroad without fear of not being allowed back into the country.
The program was highly accepted and applauded by progressives. The GOP and those on the right viciously attacked it as an unconstitutional executive overreach. Up to that point, various bipartisan DREAM Act-esque pieces of legislation, each providing some form of path to citizenship for young immigrants brought here as children, had been introduced to Congress going all the way back to the George W. Bush administration. Every single time those bills came up for a vote or into consideration, they were shot down by Republicans. The argument that DACA policy is best left for Congress to decide is no more than a straw man used by Republicans. Nevertheless, the policy was challenged by congressional Republicans, who threatened to defund it. Nothing came of their threats, as the program was self-funded by its application fees.
In 2014, President Obama attempted to expand the DACA program to include more young immigrants. However, both that move as well as DAPA, a similar policy for the parents of citizens or permanent residents, were challenged in court. Thus, an injunction was placed, and the challenge was brought before the Supreme Court, which was equally divided on the issue. The 4-4 Supreme Court decision caused the order to stand, essentially ending the expansion and the DAPA program. However, DACA in its original form remained untouched and fully in place.
It doesn’t take too much digging into the DACA issue to find countless arguments from the right as to why the program “isn’t good for America.” One of the major arguments I’ve heard used as recently as this week is that the program makes “America less safe.” This is simply untrue.
DACA has at least eight major requirements for qualification:
- The candidate can not have a felony conviction, serious misdemeanors, or more than three misdemeanors. Every candidate goes through a vigorous background check, which must come back squeaky clean. So much for the “makes us less safe” argument, right?
- The person applying for deferred action must have immigrated to the country before their 16th birthday.
- They must have completed high school or GED, be enrolled in school or university, or have an honorable discharge from the armed forces.
- They have to have been under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.
- Every candidate must have entered the U.S. without inspection or fell out of lawful visa status before the June 15th date. Essentially, they had to have overstayed their visa or crossed illegally.
- Candidates for the program have to have continuously resided in the country from June 15th, 2007 forward. Meaning that if a candidate left the country and reentered after June 15th, 2007 they are not eligible for the program.
- They must have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15th, 2012, as well as, at the time they make the request for consideration for deferred action.
- Lastly, individuals must not pose a threat to national security or public safety. As proven through that background check I mentioned. Again, so much for the “it makes American less safe” argument.
The requirements to travel under the DACA program are even more demanding. For starters, the candidate must prove a necessity to travel outside the country, it can not be for leisure. Also, the person applying for permission to travel must fill out separate forms and pay a separate charge on top of the original $495 fee.
That’s right; it cost almost $500 to just apply for DACA. You are not accepted until every single page of the lengthy application is filled out, signed, the background check is completed, and the fee is paid in full. This number does not include attorney fees if you use an immigration attorney to help you through the application process.
The Importance of DACA
The requirements are pretty intense and expensive, huh? Imagine how I felt during my first time going through this process. I remember my mom making me swear I would not do as much as jaywalk after USCIS announced the strict requirements. The stress of not meeting the deadlines was awful. When the application process for DACA opened, I was in my third year of college. I was attempting to juggle going to class, homework, working to keep my grades up, and trying to have a social life while traveling back and forth 200 miles to my parents to meet with the attorney helping me with my case. I remember my parents working nonstop to help me pay for all the fees and expenses. It was not easy, but I would do it all again, and to an extent, I still do every two years. You see, DACA is granted for only two years. Every year that DACA is up for renewal, you have to start the process at least a month in advance to make sure you get your renewal before the previous one runs out.
Now, I’m fully employed, so the fees are not as financially straining, but the stress of getting everything right on all the forms and mailing everything out on time persists every renewal season. Nonetheless, my life has completely changed because of the DACA program. I work for a non-profit doing something I enjoy. I am fully independent financially, and I’m able to help my parents. I pay taxes, bought a car, have health insurance, opened a savings account, can’t vote but I’m politically active, and everything I dream about is within reach. All thanks to DACA.
So, why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s important to me, and all other DACA recipients, for you to understand that this program is not a handout. It’s not amnesty, as much as we wish it were. It’s a temporary band-aid, but a band-aid that is crucial to almost 800,000 young people.
We are DACA recipients, DREAMers, that have deep roots in this country. We are your nurses, educators, executives, doctors, farmers, therapists, social service providers, lawyers, and service members. We contribute socially, culturally, and financially to American society. We work alongside you and even serve in the military. We live among you as neighbors, friends, students, coworkers, significant others, acquaintances, and human beings. We are not “rapists, murderers, or criminals,” as many on the right try to paint us as being. We are regular people who love and believe in this country as much as every other American does.We come from many different places, including South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, and we love where we originate from. However, we are also proud Americans, and now the life that we know and love is under threat.
President Trump will have to decide in the next few days to either continue the DACA program or end it. He is being pressured by immigration hardliners to terminate the program. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with other Republican officials from nine states, sent President Trump a threatening letter demanding he repeals the DACA program or deals with a lawsuit as a consequence. Conflicting reports have surfaced as to what position Trump will take. However, whatever choice Trump makes, the threat against DACA will remain. We need you to stand with us on this. We can not do this alone. Call Congress and let them know you support DACA and bipartisan legislation for DREAMers. We are part of the resistance, and we will not go down quietly.