DACA 10 years on: ‘Dreamers’ futures still uncertain

Washington, DC – Migrant advocates and progressive leaders in the United States are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of a fraught programme that protects undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children.

Dozens of immigrants, supporters and progressive Democratic lawmakers gathered outside of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC on Wednesday, where the court is scheduled to begin hearing oral arguments in July, in a case that could affect the future of the programme known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“DACA is our victory, but we have more to win,” Greisa Martinez, executive director of United We Dream organisation, and a DACA recipient, said during the news conference on Wednesday. “DACA has been under attack since its inception.”

Ten years ago, the administration of then-President Barack Obama created DACA. The programme gives safety from deportation and allows undocumented immigrants who came to the US as minors before June 15, 2007 to work or attend school legally, if they meet certain requirements.

The programme was passed through executive action, after Congress failed to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, a bill that would put DACA recipients – also known as Dreamers – on a path to US citizenship.

“For all they have done for our nation, and all they will continue to do, DACA recipients and their families deserve better,” Obama said in a tweet on Wednesday. “On the 10th anniversary of DACA, let’s redouble our efforts to build a commonsense immigration system that offers these Americans a pathway to citizenship.”

At the time, Obama called the move a “stopgap measure”. But 10 years later, DACA is still in place, and its future is uncertain. The administration of former President Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to dismantle the programme, as part of his broader effort to crack down on immigration in the US.

In 2018, Texas filed a lawsuit challenging DACA’s legality. The case has wound its way through the courts.

In July last year, a judge in Texas blocked new applications for DACA, after ruling that the programme was created illegally by the Obama administration. Migrant groups say the move froze the applications of more than 80,000 eligible applicants. The ruling has been appealed and is scheduled to be argued before a three-judge panel at the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals next month.

The development comes amid a standstill on immigration reform in the US.

As the US heads into midterm elections in November, when Republicans are vying for a majority in Congress, immigration has become a hot election topic. Republican leaders have seized on the record high numbers of migrants coming from Central America and arriving at the US-Mexico border seeking asylum to attack President Joe Biden. Since taking office last year, Biden has struggled to advance his agenda on immigration.

Lingering fear

Karen Herrera, from Berkeley, California, came to the US from Mexico with her parents when she was three years old.

After becoming a DACA recipient in 2013, Herrera, 30, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. She now lives in New York City, where she is attending law school.

“DACA opened so many doors for me and allowed me to continue following my dreams,” Herrera told Al Jazeera.

“But there is a lingering fear,” she said. “I wish this was more permanent.”

Herrera said that having to reapply for her status every two years is a struggle and recently, she had to turn down a work opportunity abroad after delays in her application for advance parole, which gives her permission to travel abroad.

“I wish I could make more concrete life decisions without the fear of what my life would look like in two, or five years,” she said.

The programme has shielded more than 830,000 young people from deportation and allowed them to work and study, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Hundreds of DACA recipients and supporters rallied outside the US Capitol on Wednesday with signs reading “DACA is temporary, our home is here” and “DACA is not enough”. Speakers during the news conference urged the Biden administration to do more to protect Dreamers.

Last year, Democratic leaders tried to pass legislation that would have provided a path to citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US. But that effort was blocked by Republican leaders.

“We are calling on the Biden administration to use its executive authority to protect as many undocumented immigrants as possible,” said US Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. “We are asking them to expand DACA eligibility and not be afraid to defend that position in court.”

In a pre-recorded video on Wednesday, Biden called on Congress to pass the Dream Act, so he can sign it “immediately”.

“By allowing them to live and work here legally these young people contribute to our community in ways that are both big and small,” Biden said.

“Dreamers are American friends and neighbours and Americans in every way except on paper. It’s time to provide them with the permanent protections they deserve.”

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