Last Thursday, the latest domino in the DACA saga dropped when Judge Andrew Hannen out of the Southern District of Texas ruled that the DACA program was unlawful, immediately halting the processing of an estimated 55,000 first time DACA applications currently in the pipeline. Opponents of immigration lauded the decision, while supporters and advocates immediately took to news outlets and social media platforms to decry the latest perceived injustice. While its clear from the language of Judge Hannen’s opinion in Texas vs. United States that there is a legal path forward for DACA, and that the case will be challenged by the Biden Administration in the Supreme Court, what’s even more obvious is that its time for Congress to step in and resolve the matter once and for all.
DACA, or Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an Obama-era program created through executive order that offers work permits in two-year increments for undocumented persons, or Dreamers, who were brought to the United States at a young age. DACA only came about as an executive order after mounting frustration from multiple failed attempts from bipartisan congressional groups to pass versions of the Dream Act, dating back to 2001.
The DACA program was by many measures a success- it is estimated that there are over 1.8 million persons eligible for the program and around 650,000 who actively hold DACA status. Along with the work permits came benefits such as social security cards, driver’s licenses, and state IDs, and in some cases, eligibility for in-state tuition.
It is important to understand that DACA is not a handout, not is it an incentive for illegal immigration. There are strict cutoff dates and grounds for ineligibility that ensure DACA is not granted to anyone and everyone who applies for risk of being viewed as a blanket amnesty. The Obama Administration knew it would be criticized by political opponents for creating DACA by executive order, and as such, implemented strict eligibility requirements for that reason.
Generally- a person is only eligible for DACA if they arrived in the United States prior to their 16th birthday, resided in the US continuously from June 15, 2007 until the time they applied, were under the age of 31 at the time the program as created in 2012, graduated from high school, obtained a GED, or were in school or a GED program at the time they applied, and had not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor. The program is self-funded, requiring a $495 dollar application fee along with consenting to a biometrics application that can scan an applicant for adverse criminal or immigration history. And the program requires renewal every two years, meaning a DACA recipient must continue to pay into the program and be law abiding or risk losing their status and becoming subject to deportation from the United States.
For these reasons, DACA polls favorably across partisan lines, with many prominent national polls showing support for DACA and Dreamers among Republicans and Trump supporters in the 60th to 70th percentile, and even higher among Democrats- common ground almost unheard of in today’s polarized political climate. It is likely that anyone reading this article knows someone with DACA status, or with a family member who has DACA. They are teaching in our classrooms, working in our factories, delivering food and groceries during last years pandemic, working construction jobs during this latest housing boom, and maybe most importantly, serving as doctors, nurses, technicians, lab assistants and hospital workers during the most devastating health crisis our country has seen in a hundred years. By the very nature of the requirements of DACA, we can say that they did not choose to come to this country but were brought here at a young age. They have grown up here, they speak English, most have never even seen their home countries or family members that remained behind, and now, yet again, they are in fear of being rejected by the country they have called home for the majority of their lifetimes.
So here is what needs to happen and happen now: there are two bills currently in Congress (American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 and the Dream Act of 2021) that if approved, would create legal permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for somewhere between 2-3 million eligible Dreamers. There is an argument to pass this legislation through budget reconciliation, or after eliminating the filibuster, but doing so would put a partisan stain on an issue that, remarkably for a nation so divided at this moment in history, has overwhelming bipartisan support. Rather than going it alone, Democrats and Republicans must find common ground and enshrine protection for Dreamers into legislation, rather than relying on executive order. In doing so, Congress can show regular Americans that they can act as humanitarians rather than strategists, cast division aside, and do the right thing- our Dreamers are counting on it!