As today’s crushing news about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program broke, two camps became alarmingly clear and distinct on social media: those who have a heart, and those who actually have no idea what DACA is. Education is the best defense against coming off as a racist, so here’s a quick refresher on what DACA does before you get into anymore fights online.
What is DACA?
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program emerged as a band-aid solution to a much bigger undocumented immigration problem that Congress has tried and failed to address repeatedly since 2001 through something called the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (Dream Act). After the bipartisan Dream Act passed through the House of Representatives in 2010 but failed via filibuster 55-41 in the Senate, President Barack Obama issued an executive order creating the DACA program. This protected what the Obama Administration dubbed “low-priority” immigrants — those who’d lived in relative anonymity without criminal records (we’ll save the discussion about the false “good” immigrant/“bad” immigrant binary for another day) — from being deported by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents who have always kind of been a force of their own and wouldn’t have had much mercy just because of rhetoric.
Signed into action in June 2012, DACA officially allows applicants to receive “deferred action” regarding deportation for two years for a $495 fee. When the two years have lapsed, DACAmented individuals can also apply for a renewal of their protected — but not the same as truly “legal” (despite that no human being should ever be considered “illegal!”) — status for another $495.
Who does DACA protect?
Since being enacted just five years ago, the DACA program has protected nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children, with around 1.3 million total eligible recipients. To be eligible for DACA, immigrants must have arrived in the US before the age of 16 and before 2007, be at least 15 now and have been younger than 31 when DACA was announced in 2012, have virtually no criminal record, and be in high school or have a GED. Mexican Americans are the greatest beneficiaries of DACA, with just over 689,000 approved applications through March 2017. And, although Latinx countries tend to get the most media coverage due to their higher application rates, applicants from numerous Asian and Pacific Islander countries have also benefitted from DACA.
What government services are DACA recipients eligible for?
Beyond deferred action, work authorization, the ability to apply for a credit card, and the ability to get a driver’s license (in some states), DACAmented individuals don’t actually get that many government services. While opposition to DACA claims that the program drains valuable resources that only the true American citizenry deserves, DACAmented individuals aren’t eligible for federal financial aid, Medicaid, Obamacare, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, welfare, or food stamps. Though DACA recipients have Social Security number and will have paid $19.9 billion in taxes towards Social Security (and $4.6 billion in taxes towards Medicare) after just one decade of the program’s existence, because DACA does not provide a real legal status, DACAmented individuals will never actually be able to collect any of these Social Security benefits. Add on the fact that DACAmented individuals have paid more than $11.74 billion in state and local taxes — and odds are their families pay more in addition, as many undocumented Americans pay taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number as they do not have a Social Security number and here in America even if we don’t want you, we want your money — and it’s pretty clear that DACA recipients are funneling more money into the American economy than out of it.
Is there any precedent for this?
Actually, yes. Both Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. used their executive powers to give blanket deferred action to keep families that would be separated by changes in amnesty laws together, and Bush Jr. used his powers to defer action for foreign students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
So why is DACA controversial?
It seems the Trump Administration has no problem with sweeping executive power when it comes to banning, surveilling, and criminalizing brown bodies, but protection thereof by executive order is suddenly an overreach — prompting a threat by 10 GOP State Attorney Generals to threaten a lawsuit against the federal government unless Trump made good on his campaign promise to end DACA (although Tennessee’s found his heart and dropped out).
Would the lawsuit have succeeded?
As legal columnist Cristian Farias writes, the threat to sue over DACA “lacks merit, is internally inconsistent, and there’s little evidence that it was dreamed up for any other reason than political grandstanding.” States would have had to ask a federal district court to amend existing suits over the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program, which was already deadlocked on by the Supreme Court and thereby cancelled before it began by the 5th Court of Appeals ruling against the program. As the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Thomas A. Saenz explains, any expansion on the suit would thus be a legal nightmare for 5-year-old DACA that no one would likely want to pick up.
What happens next?
Ironically, several states threatened to file a lawsuit fighting to confirm the legality of DACA. As for the immediate fate of the program, not much is known as Trump has kicked the can to a sharply polarized Congress to resolve the issue legislatively in the next 6 months. New DACA applications are not being accepted, and those whose deferred action expires before the 6 month deadline of March 5th may apply for renewal, but must do so within the next month, before October 5th.
A lot remains unclear, but two things are certain: We must take cues from the undocumented and DACAmented loved ones in our lives. And to preserve the true identity of America — we must not stop fighting.