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DACA and Dream Act 101

Photo by EPA-EFE/ALBA VIGARAY

On June 18th, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — at least for now. This is an answered prayer for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.  For those who may not fully understand DACA and the issues surrounding it, we hope this brief primer will help.

What is DACA?

The short story is that DACA has provided a pathway for children and young adults who came to the United States with their parents to legally obtain a Social Security Number and driver’s license, to work lawfully, and to be protected from the threat of deportation. While their parents either came to the U.S. unlawfully or overstayed their visas, these kids usually had no choice but to come with their parents, and this immigration policy has provided opportunities for those youth who had already been in our country for years. DACA doesn’t offer a pathway toward permanent legal status or U.S. citizenship. It also doesn’t give individuals access to federal financial aid programs. It simply affords them the opportunity to further their own development, provide for themselves and their loved ones, and participate in their communities without fear of deportation.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), announced by President Obama on June 15th, 2012, has allowed immigrants who

  • Were born on or after June 16, 1981,
  • Arrived to the United States before age 16 and
  • Have lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007

to be eligible for work authorization in the United States and protection from deportation in two-year renewable increments. These individuals are generally called “Dreamers,” named so after the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation first introduced in Congress in 2001 that would afford these individuals permanent legal status (but which, thus far, has not become law).

How many people have DACA?

About 800,000 have benefited from DACA since 2012.

Individuals from Mexico represent the largest number of DACA recipients, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and South Korea.

Presently, slightly less than 700,000 individuals are protected by DACA, as some have been eligible to adjust to permanent legal status and others have elected not to renew their status or have become ineligible. 

What would the termination of DACA mean?

It would mean that the roughly 700,000 children or young adults who are DACA recipients would –– at a minimum –– lose their jobs, which may mean lacking the income to make payments on a car loan, rent, mortgage or school tuition or to help support their families. It could also mean being sent back to their countries of birth, even though many cannot remember living in any country other than the U.S., where they have grown up.

The White House and Department of Justice announced the termination of DACA on September 5, 2017. Since that time, the Department of Homeland Security has not accepted any new applications for DACA. Individuals who had DACA at that time were told they had a short period of time when they were allowed to renew for a final two-year period. 

However, several courts then put the Trump administration’s plans on a temporary hold, such that, for the past year, individuals with DACA have generally been able to renew their status, while no new DACA requests have been considered (including from those who turned 15 years old, and thus would have been eligible for the first time, since DACA was terminated).  

What does the Supreme Court’s decision mean for DACA recipients?

On June 18, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its opinion on the various lower court challenges that had been brought to halt the termination of DACA. The majority of the justices agreed that the administration had not provided a legally adequate rationale for terminating DACA. For the moment, this means DACA remains open — though we are still waiting for further guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in terms of the process for renewals and the possibility of new qualifying applications. 

However, the decision also makes clear that the current administration or a future administration could still terminate DACA if they provided a legally appropriate rationale. The only permanent solution to the situation of Dreamers is for Congress to pass a new law that would allow them to become Lawful Permanent Residents of the United States, which would be a prerequisite to applying for citizenship. 

What is the DREAM Act?

A permanent solution.

The DREAM Act is the name of a bipartisan bill first introduced in 2001 to offer a permanent solution for Dreamers by allowing them to eventually earn citizenship if they go to college, maintain a job, or serve in the U.S. military. The DREAM Act has been introduced repeatedly but has not yet become law.

A version of the DREAM Act was included in the American Dream and Promise Act, which was passed in a bipartisan vote by the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2019. While a related bipartisan bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, the bill has not been considered by the full U.S. Senate at this time. To become law, a bill must generally be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, then be signed by the president. 

But aren’t Dreamers here illegally? Why should the U.S. allow them to stay?

While their parents made the choice to enter the U.S. illegally or overstay a visa, Dreamers, who were children when they arrived, did not make that choice for themselves. There’s no place in American law that penalizes children for the action of their parents. For many Dreamers, the U.S. is the only home they’ve ever known. Passing the DREAM Act or similar legislation is an opportunity to fix the law so that Dreamers correct their situation, earn citizenship and remain in the country they call home.

Where can I find more information?

Individuals who believe they may be eligible to renew or apply for DACA should immediately consult with an experienced immigration attorney or a non-profit organization (including many World Relief offices and local churches supported by World Relief) that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice to provide low-cost immigration legal services. Visit our website to find a location near you.

To explore the issue of immigration more broadly from a distinctly Christian perspective, we recommend books such as Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate by World Relief’s Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang and The God Who Sees: Immigrants, The Bible, and The Journey to Belong by World Relief’s Karen Gonzalez. You can also download a free small group guide, Discovering and Living God’s Heart for Immigrants or the Evangelical Immigration Table’s e-book, Thinking Biblically about Immigrants and Immigration Reform.

I support DACA and Dreamers, but I’m not sure how I — one person — can help. Do you have any ideas?

There are many ways you can help. Here are five simple ideas:

  1. For starters, consider following World Relief on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) to learn more and share posts you agree with.
  2. To take action, write your members of Congress urging them to support the DREAM Act. Signing this letter prepared by the Evangelical Immigration Table is a good place to start.
  3. Write and submit an op-ed or a letter to the editor of the local paper about why you support Dreamers.
  4. If you have a story to tell about yourself or someone you know who has DACA, consider sharing how it’s helped your or their life on social media. This is a human issue and we need to keep it humanized.
  5. Finally, provide financial support so that World Relief can continue to provide affordable, authorized, compassionate support to Dreamers and other immigrants in need of competent legal advice.

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