On September 5, 2017, Jeff Sessions, then the U.S. Attorney General, announced that the Trump Administration would be rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and thus ending deportation protections and legal employment for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. The announcement mirrored many of the immigration policy rollouts from the Trump era: it was made with no regard for immigrants’ lives and safety, it was messy and it immediately met with legal challenges.
The announced plan indicated that new DACA applications would not be accepted but allowed those whose permits expired before March 5, 2018, to apply to renew their DACA permits so long as they did so within a month of the statement terminating the program. If that sentence was confusing, it’s because the announcement itself was meant to confuse. President Trump himself contributed to the chaos tweeting hours after Jeff Sessions made the announcement, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”
But today marks the two-year anniversary of the termination of DACA. Congress has not acted, Trump has not revisited the issue other than to use it as a bargaining chip to build his infamous wall, and the fate of many undocumented immigrants depends on the decision of the Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments about DACA on November 12.
At the time of the termination announcement, DACA recipients scrambled to gather documents to show they met the qualifications for renewal and to come up with the $495 fee to renew the permit. At least 1,900 saw their renewals rejected due to post office delays. DACA recipients were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as was the case for Daniel Ramirez Medina and Omar Helalat. And Estefany Méndez saw her employment terminated by Univision because her DACA permit had lapsed before her renewal was approved. (Univision told La Opinion in a statement that they do not comment on the specific labor disputes of employees, but that they fully support DACA and reimburse the DACA renewal fee of any Univision employee.) It is not empty rhetoric that the lives of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients were thrown into mayhem as the shaky ground on which they’d long stood got even shakier.
The first time legislation was proposed to help adjust the immigration status of those who came to the U.S. as children through no choice of their own and provide them with a path to citizenship was in 2001 when the DREAM Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. Since then at least 10 versions have been introduced in Congress, according to the American Immigration Council, but nothing has been enacted to help the millions of young people now known as Dreamers. In 2012, President Obama announced the policy known as DACA, which offered some of these young immigrants a renewable two-year period in which they could legally work in this country without fear of deportation. The program, while life-changing for some, was a temporary fix with no long-term guarantees — and because it was only open to those who came to the U.S. before the age of 16, and were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, it left out many undocumented people. When the Trump Administration announced that it was rescinding DACA, it crushed the dreams of so many more. Children who were just shy of their 15th birthday at the time of announcement, the age to apply for DACA, saw the opportunity they had been waiting for vanish.
For now, due to several lawsuits filed against the Trump administration, DACA renewals have been allowed to continue, but that all may change if the Supreme Court rules that DACA is unconstitutional, as the Trump Administration claims. Even if the Court rules that it is constitutional, we will still be back in a position where so many Dreamers don’t meet its requirements and therefore have no protection.
Dreamers deserve much better than what we as a country have offered. They have built their entire lives in America and contribute positively to our economy and society. But the real reason Dreamers need a solution that takes them out of this anxiety-riddled maze is because they are human beings who deserve the dignity of pursuing their dreams and ambitions. We can’t let a single court decision decide the fate of DACA recipients or keep Dreamers who didn’t qualify waiting any longer. Congress must act now, and we the American people must demand that they do.