On June 15, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program officially turned 10. The program has allowed over 600,000 “dreamers,” young, undocumented immigrants who were largely raised in the U.S., to apply to work and study in the country without fearing deportation since former President Barack Obama signed the executive order in 2012. But the program has faced continuous legal challenges. Last year, a federal judge in Texas stopped first-time DACA applications from being processed and left tens of thousands of immigrant youth without protections from the threat of deportation. Immigration advocates say Congress must pass permanent protections for immigrant youth and get DACA out of limbo.
DACA has greatly impacted immigrant youth’s lives by providing two-year work permits, greater access to higher education, and short-term relief from deportation, but the program is currently stalled. Since Texas Judge Andrew Hanen struck down DACA in 2021, current Dreamers are still able to renew their status, but approving new applicants is not allowed, creating a backlog where even applicants who applied before the court ruling are stuck waiting and risking deportation in the process.
Last week, advocates and supporters rallied on the anniversary to call for permanent protections. United We Dream Senior Communications and Political Director Bruna Sollod said they wanted to do as much as they could to bring attention to the legal limbo the program is currently facing. Hundreds of people from across the country rallied with United We Dream in Washington, D.C., to share their stories of how DACA has impacted them and to remind politicians that the issue of DACA is not solved.
“The program is still in threat, the livelihoods of young people are in threat, and Congress needs to do something,” Sollod said. “We were calling on politicians to do their job to do what they need to do to protect people from detention and deportation.”
According to Sollod, many members of United We Dream are graduating high school or college and are unable to plan for their future because of the ruling. Many were hoping their DACA status would help them apply for scholarships to cover tuition, since undocumented students are not eligible for federal student aid. One member in particular, Sollod said, applied to DACA last year, but because of the Texas case, their application is just sitting with USCIS not being processed. This puts a barrier on the number of courses students can take in college, and may take them longer to graduate so they can afford the cost of tuition.
“It’s really tough if you’re graduating from high school and you’re in college. It just makes your life much tougher,” Sollod said. “You’re having to go through a lot more barriers than the average college student.”
Sollod says the future of DACA is likewise in peril because President Joe Biden’s appeal to the Texas ruling is being sent to the Fifth Circuit, where a former-President Donald Trump-appointed judge will make a ruling.
“We know that that’s a huge threat to the program,” Sollod said. “But we believe that DACA is legal. We believe that it is a program that has legal merit, and we know that it has protected hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation and allowed them to contribute to their communities and to have their jobs and provide for their family.”
Sollod and other advocates say the solution lies with Congress so they do not have to continuously fight in courts or rely on executive orders. Biden has appealed the Texas ruling, and upon taking office, he sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress, which would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people including Dreamers, but it is unlikely to be passed. Most recently, Biden has also called on Congress to pass bipartisan legislation for protection.
“DACA is still at the mercy of whoever is in the executive office, and at the mercy of what the federal courts may green light or red light for DACA,” said Gladis Molina Alt, executive director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. “We want these kids to have status. Yet the second problem is getting Congress to do something about it.”
While the American Dream and Promise Act passed in the House last year, which would protect millions of undocumented immigrants, senators have yet to vote on the bill. Sollod hopes senators can reach a bipartisan agreement soon and bring the bill to a vote.