Jun 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

As DACA turns 10, protections for thousands of immigrants remain in jeopardy

Photo of a sign that says "Deferred Action = NO ACTION"

Demonstrators at a rally to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in New York City on June 15, 2022. Photo: Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

Ten years after then-President Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that shields over 600,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, many remain uncertain of their future.

Why it matters: A 2020 Pew Research Center survey found that roughly 75% of U.S. adults say they are in favor of granting permanent legal status in these cases, yet the program dangles in peril. As President Biden on Wednesday commemorated the program's 10-year anniversary, DACA recipients — and their allies — are still pushing for immediate action on a pathway to citizenship.

Context: DACA recipients must meet certain requirements, such as having arrived in the U.S. by age 16 and before 2007, in order to qualify. Those enrolled in the program, which offers work permits, then have to reapply for DACA renewal every two years.

  • At the time of its implementation, Obama emphasized that DACA is a temporary "stopgap measure" and that Congress must take action to "fix our broken immigration system" and provide a pathway to legal status.
  • But congressional efforts to pass a legislative solution have repeatedly failed, leaving DACA recipients in the same precarious position 10 years later.

State of play: Though DACA has stayed in place across three administrations, it has weathered its fair share of attacks.

  • Under former President Trump, who made multiple attempts to slash the program, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stopped taking new applications.
  • A GOP-led legal challenge led a federal judge to rule last year that Obama did not have the legal authority to create DACA, forcing the Biden administration to cease approving new applications. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to consider the case later this summer.
  • Regardless of the outcome, DACA recipients and immigrant rights advocates have long said the program itself is not enough.
  • This year, most of the nation's 100,000 undocumented high school graduates are ineligible for the program due to its restrictions, according to FWD.us, a pro-immigration lobbying group.

Our thought bubble via Axios' Astrid Galván: While DACA recipients are often young, many are already in their early and late 30s and have children and mortgages, making the precariousness of their status even more jarring.

What they're saying: "I can accomplish my goals, as can 800,000 other Dreamers, as long as we plan our life in two-year increments and give up hope of a permanent life here. How is this just?" Hina Naveed, a DACA recipient who became a nurse and attorney, said at a rally in New York City on Wednesday.

  • "The time is not now. The time was 10 years ago ... The time was every year that we have gone on without providing permanency for 800,000 DACA recipients and many more who are vulnerable to deportation because of the court order in Texas," Naveed added.
  • New York Assembly member Catalina Cruz, the first former DACA recipient elected to the state chamber, noted that "we were promised" immigration reform in the first 100 days. "Those 100 days came and went, and we have nothing," she said at the rally.
  • "At this point I am begging. We have almost a million young people who have given everything — many of them were the frontline workers ... that saved the lives of our neighbors. Why can't we give them the dignity to stop simply surviving? They deserve it."
  • "They deserve better than to live in uncertainty, or fear of change of status and possible deportation," Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said at a separate event at the U.S. Capitol. "For more than 10 years, they’ve contributed and have earned protections and a pathway to citizenship, and that’s why we’re not giving up."
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