On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Trump had formally decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The move has a six-month delay, to allow Congress to draft a legislative fix and allow those with permits expiring within the next six months to renew (though no new permits will be issued), and would be implemented over the next two years as those deferrals peter out. It would affect almost 800,000 people.
The program was implemented in 2012 under President Obama. It allowed certain illegal immigrants who came to the country as minors to apply for a work visa and a two-year period of deferred action from deportation. The idea was to shift immigration enforcement away from low-priority illegal immigrants with good standing. Most of these illegal immigrants who came here as minors are called DREAMers, from the 2001 DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). The DREAM Act sought to qualify alien minors for conditional residency that could lead to permanent residency. The DREAM Act was scrapped and stalled multiple times, leading to President Obama introducing DACA.
In his speech Tuesday, Sessions characterized DACA as a circumvention of immigration laws and overstepping of President Obama’s executive authority. It was, he felt, an attempt for the executive branch to “achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to to authorize on multiple occasions.” Sessions went on to say, “There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws…failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and even terrorism.”
DACA potential applicants had to meet the following requirements, though this did not guarantee approval. They had to have come to the United States before their 16th birthday, have lived in the U.S. since 2007, be under the age of 31 in June 2012, no lawful status from the date of DACA introduction, be either enrolled/completed school/GED or be honorably discharged from the armed forces, and have not been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanors or be considered any threat to national security or public safety.
One could make the argument that the possibility of DACA might increase illegal immigration, but the rigorous requirements (as well as the time frame of illegal immigration before June 2012) negate that.
Essentially, people hoping to apply for DACA must be perfect citizens. According to a survey conducted by Tom Wong of UC San Diego, the average age of these alien minors when they came to the U.S. was 6.5 years old. Only around 20 percent of DACA participants were older than 10 when they came to the U.S. Most alien minors came to the United States as children with their families and have little to no memory of their country of origin. DREAMers also have a lower rate of incarceration than their native-born peers, according to the CATO Institute. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 223,000 DACA participants in California alone, followed by 121,000 in Texas, and 42,000 each in New York and Illinois.
Trump’s official decision sets pressure on Congress to act before March 5, 2018, at which point DACA recipients start losing their status. After that, those illegal immigrants are vulnerable to deportation and the possibility that the information they gave to participate in DACA could be used against them, a worry expressed by immigrant rights advocates in a CNN article.
In his speech Tuesday, Sessions made the point to mention that DACA participants are “mostly-adult illegal aliens.” It’s true; according to Wong’s data, most DACA participants are in their 20s, and some are even as old as 35. They have gone to school here, they’ve gotten married, they’ve had kids, they’ve held jobs and they pay taxes. But it’s important to remember that while they are adults now, they were minors when brought to the United States: most likely, they had no choice in the matter. And DACA merely protects its participants from the threat of deportation, it does not lead to a path of citizenship.
Ending DACA means forcing people who have lived almost their entire lives in this country back to a place of which they have, often, no recollection or connection. It places the onus on them, as minors-at-the-time, rather than the people who made the decisions.