How DACA’s Imperfect Past Should Be Salvaged to a More “Perfect Union”

Preserving the People, Progressing the Policy

As of July 31st, 2018 there are 703,890 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. More than half a million of that amount is from Mexico, adding up to a substantial 77.5% (Immigration and Naturalization Service, 2018). For perspective, there are more DACA recipients than the individual populations of The District of Columbia, Vermont, and Wyoming. In fact, there is only a 12,300 person difference between the amount of DACA’s Mexico immigrants and the population of Wyoming, with the latter barely containing more. Additionally, DACA recipients, also referred to as Dreamers, often have families that are greatly impacted by their relative’s status in the program. When considering the future of DACA, there are often three theoretical directions that policy makers engage with: Scrap it and remake completely, sustain aspects and evolve from where it stands now, or keep it as is. Although each’s supporters argue fervently for their position, and may make dignified claims, the most beneficial outcome for the complex policy is a reworking that respects its leftist notions, but dismantles the problematics woven throughout. This preference for staying and changing is not to imply that wholistic overthrows of systemic, cyclical oppression is to be rejected as unrealistic. Rather, by sustaining some tenants and changing several, future policy makers do two things. First, they value the time and processes already spent my Dreamers, acknowledging that creating a completely new policy runs the risk of leaving out those who are rightfully discouraged by how tumultuous their immigration experience has already been. Second, there exists mountains of infrastructure established throughout the lifespan of DACA. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater in this situation disregards fiscal, emotional, and social value seeded into the program over the past years. Because of the information above, this text argues that the human weight invested into the DACA program should act as reason to preserve the people’s efforts already involved, while working vigorously to progress the policy towards a more just long term solution.

Before continuing on, it is vital to succinctly explain what DACA is, who is eligible, and what the process looks like as it stands today. On June 15th, 2012 Former President Barack Obama pushed to initiate DACA. Although Obama has always preferred larger, comprehensive reform, he faced a controlling lack of support from his republican colleagues in congress. The University of California at Berkeley explains in layman’s terms that DACA “is a kind of administrative relief from deportation. The purpose of DACA is to protect eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children from deportation. DACA gives young undocumented immigrants: 1) protection from deportation, and 2) a work permit. The program expires after two years, subject to renewal” (Berkeley, 2019). This relief, however, has incredibly strict requirements. In order to qualify for the young-adult program, the following is enforced: You were under 31 years old as of June 15th, 2012; you first came to the U.S. before your 16th birthday; you have lived continuously in the U.S. from June 15th, 2007 until the present; you were physically present in the U.S. on June 15th, 2012 and at the time you apply; you came to the U.S. without documents before June 15th, 2012, or your lawful status expired as of June 15th, 2012; you are currently studying, or you graduated from high school or earned a certificate of completion of high school or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard of military (technical and trade school completion also qualifies); and you have not been convicted of a felony, certain misdemeanors, or three or more misdemeanors of any kind, as presented by Berkeley, quoting the original documents (Berkeley, 2019). If someone happens to meet all of these requirements, they are then expected to spend $495 dollars for each application and renewal. Needless to say, as it stands right now, DACA is as much a program of exclusion as it is opportunity.

With so many stipulations, it is easy to forget what the cornerstone of this policy should be about, the people. While anecdotal evidence is not sufficient for sociological theory, it does provide a much needed window into the lived experiences of Dreamers. The subsequent stories do just that: illustrate the shadows. Jin Park, a recent Harvard graduate, penned an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “I’m a Dreamer and a Rhodes Scholar. Where Do I Belong?” As an established academic, one may expect Park to be immune from the complications of discriminatory policy guidelines. Yet, he shares, “This is a perpetual reality of being undocumented: I never know if I have a place in America — my home — even after receiving one of the most esteemed scholarships in the world” (Park, 2019). Jessica Rubio, choosing to share her story to The Hill, similarly writes, “I grew up being told to pursue higher education and go to college, but as an undocumented person, this was a challenge. Before DACA, there were several struggles to obtaining this college education, including having to pay out of state tuition — despite having resided in Arizona for 6 years — not having a driver’s license, and unattainable jobs that paid a living wage” (Rubio, 2017). Sharing another common struggle, Lucia Allain told Time magazine what it is like being the only one with some sort of papers in her family. Allain attests, “I don’t want to say that I regret, but it pains me to know that I’m the only documented person in my family. It makes me feel guilty. Why should I deserve this when other people who are in a worse situation could deserve this more than me?” (Rhodan and Talkoff, 2017). Their stories are but a few of the thousands which echo larger criticisms the policy has faced since its inception.

While DACA provides opportunities to engage with education and the workforce, its most notable critique regards the transient and translucent nature of the “citizenship” it grants. Aptly put in Gonzales, Terriquez, and Ruszczyk’s piece “Becoming DACAmented: Assessing the Short-Term Benefits of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” “DACA is not a permanent solution. And it raises additional questions regarding its future as a policy and its potential to shape liminal lives for those who may fall out of status, even briefly, during renewal periods. Presently, some of the limitations of this program are clear. DACA is, at best, a second-class status” (Roberto G. Gonzales, Veronica Terriquez, and Stephen P. Ruszczyk, 2014). They further argue that as Dreamers gain benefits, others are perpetually left behind. “Although many may
use their DACA status to obtain better jobs, increase earnings, and legally access driver’s licenses and health care, those lacking DACA may experience greater legal, educational, and social exclusion,” their data found (Roberto G. Gonzales, Veronica Terriquez, and Stephen P. Ruszczyk, 2014). This critique, along with the individual’s trials above, are justified and provide the literature necessary to begin enacting change.

It is one thing to live in critiques and another to craft an active conglomerate whose purpose is evidence spurring alteration. In other words, the U.S. is past due for a solutions framework which values personal and theoretical criticism. Without some major additions and subtractions, DACA runs the risk of helping some while hurting others more. There are five practical improvements that would categorically shift the lives of undocumented youth in this country. It is difficult to say which of the consecutive additions or subtractions is the most pertinent, as they are all both endlessly vital and interconnected. Because of this, the successive suggestions are in no particular order.

That said, a pathway to citizenship is the bare minimum deserved by individuals who face illicit persecution and discrimination when interacting with federal, state, and local institutions. Next, the fiscal responsibility connected to being a Dreamer must be lowered. If a family of 5 houses 3 DACA recipients, they are committing to nearly $1,500 every two years to avoid deportation. Expecting the average inhabitant to have this amount of dispensable cash is inherently classist and excludes too many. Moreover, due to the age limit of DACA, the lack of a sponsorship pipeline for family members fosters an environment where, as Allain represents, Dreamers feel fear and guilt for their loved ones. In addition, educational availability only provides so much opportunity in a system where the U.S.’s student loan debt equals $1.5 trillion (Friedman, 2018). If DACA’s intent is to lift a generation of immigrants into educational mobility, it must allow Dreamers to receive federal and state funding, as well as more private scholarships. A system which sends out an acceptance letter and unpayable check in the same day is merely and wholly inadequate. Lastly, the long list of requirements must begin to shorten and shift to a more inclusive process. Too often immigrants are left out to dry because they committed low level crimes, left the U.S. for a period of time, or engaged in some other minute discretion. Whereas these proposals are not all encompassing, their supplication to DACA can offer a window into a world where the U.S.’s facade of care for immigrants could be replaced with genuine empathy.

References

Berkeley. “What Is DACA?” UNDOCUMENTED STUDENT PROGRAM, 2019, undocu.berkeley.edu/legal-support-overview/what-is-daca/.

Friedman, Zack. “Student Loan Debt Statistics In 2018: A $1.5 Trillion Crisis.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 Oct. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2018/06/13/student-loan-debt-statistics-2018/#2110214a7310.

Immigration and Naturalization Service. “Approximate Active DACA Recipients.” Www.uscis.gov, 2018, www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Resources/Reports%20and%20Studies/Immigration%20Forms%20Data/All%20Form%20Types/DACA/DACA_Population_Data_July_31_2018.pdf.

MAYA RHODAN AND EMMA TALKOFF. “DACA: Talking to Recipients Five Years Later.” Time, Time, 2017, time.com/daca-dream-act-jose-antonio-vargas-time-cover-revisited/.

Park, Jin. “I’m a Dreamer and a Rhodes Scholar. Where Do I Belong?” The New York Times, 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/01/11/opinion/dreamer-rhodes-scholar-human.html.

Roberto G. Gonzales, Veronica Terriquez, and Stephen P. Ruszczyk. “Becoming DACAmented: Assessing the Short-Term Benefits of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 2014, journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0002764214550288.

Rubio, Jessica, et al. “As DACA Recipients, We Want to Share Our Stories.” TheHill, The Hill, 5 Sept. 2017, thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/348972-as-daca-recipients-we-want-to-share-our-stories.

“US States – Ranked by Population 2019.” Total Population by Country 2018, 2019, worldpopulationreview.com/states/.

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