*This article was published in October 2017 on the EPA Today newspaper website.*
Speaking the words “undocumented immigrant” is enough to spark a heated debate. Undocumented immigrants are called “illegal immigrants” by many because they entered the United States without legal documents or overstayed after their visas expired. What many have been arguing about for the past few years is what to do about the children who were brought here illegally by their parents. These children—many of whom are now young adults—have grown up in the United States and consider this country their only home.
Politicians have yet to figure out a solution, but in 2012, President Obama introduced DACA.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) started back in 2012 by the Obama administration and has since then benefited nearly 800,000 undocumented people. With this program, those who were brought to the United States illegally before the age of 16 were protected from deportation and given two-year work permits. In order to qualify for the program, the applicants had to have a high school diploma or GED, pass a background check—they couldn’t have a criminal record—and they had to pay over $400 for the initial application as well as the renewal application every two years.
On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced that the DACA program would be phased out and eventually terminated completely in the next six months.
During a press call hosted by New America Media this past September, Allison Davenport, a staff attorney at Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), confirmed that “no new applications will be accepted.” Those who currently have DACA will continue to be protected until it expires and those whose benefits will expire within the next 6 months can still apply for renewal, but they must do it before October 5, 2017.
Davenport advised anyone who falls within the 6-month window to renew their DACA before the deadline. She also advised DACA recipients to seek legal counsel to discuss all—if any—possible options outside of the program.
The Trump administration has yet to announce what will come next. Because DACA recipients are now in the government’s databases, many are worried about their future. For Luis Quiroz, a DACA recipient, this uncertainty is what made the announcement difficult to hear.
“Personally, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional distress,” said Quiroz, who was on the bus when he heard the news that DACA had officially been rescinded. “I was surprised when tears started gushing out of my eyes. I felt defeated.”
Quiroz is from Mexico and was brought to the United States when he was 6 months old. “California has been my home my whole life,” he said. Quiroz moved from San Diego to San Francisco to attend college. With DACA, he was able to obtain work and pay for college out of his own pocket. Undocumented students do not qualify for federal financial aid.
One of the benefits of DACA was the possibility of advanced parole, which could have granted the applicant permission to leave and re-enter the country. The application for advanced parole was $575 and had to have been approved for the following reasons only: urgent humanitarian purpose, educational purpose, or employment purpose.
While in college, Quiroz endured the news of his parents’ deportation and recently, more tragic news.
Quiroz had been saving up money to submit his application because his brother was recently murdered in Mexico. “He was assaulted and shot point blank in front of his 4-year-old daughter,” Quiroz said. It took Quiroz some time to save up the money for the application, but now that DACA has been rescinded, he can no longer apply for advanced parole.
While most college students are unsure of what they’ll do after they graduate, when Quiroz says, “I’m unsure of what my future looks like,” it’s not so much because he’s worried about whether he’ll find a paid internship or job in his field, but rather it’s because he also doesn’t know whether he’ll be allowed to stay in this country—the only home he’s ever known. He said, “It’s detrimental, the uncertainty.”
Many undocumented students like Quiroz are most likely experiencing the same feelings because many DACA recipients were or are currently students. Tom Wong, associate professor at UC San Diego, found that 45% of DACA recipients are currently students. Of those students, 72% are pursuing a BA or higher.
Of the DACA recipients ages 25 and older, Wong found that 36% have a BA or higher. This is higher than the native-born citizen percentage. It’s also higher than the naturalized citizen population, which is the most educated subset, explained Wong.
A higher education has resulted in better job opportunities for DACA recipients. Wong’s study found that 91% of DACA recipients are currently employed and 18 out of the 25 top Fortune 500 companies currently employ them.
Another interesting find in this study is that 5% of DACA recipients have started their own business. From the 25 and older crowd, the percentage rises to 8—this number is higher than the ratio of business starts from the American public as a whole.
Many have argued that undocumented people do not contribute to the economy because they don’t pay taxes. Wong, however, countered this popular misconception. He pointed out that better job opportunities resulted in higher wages, which has also resulted in more spending. He stated that 16% of DACA recipients purchased their first home and for those 25 years and older, the number rises to 24%. These homeowners are paying property taxes just like everyone else, he explained. Wong’s study also found that 65% of DACA recipients purchased their first car.
“The data shows that DACA works,” Wong said.
President Trump turned to Twitter on the day of his announcement about DACA to state, “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.” It is unclear what this means for DACA recipients and the public might have to wait 6 months to see what happens.
Davenport encouraged all DACA recipients to get a legal consultation and although the subject of immigration is a “very complicated process,” there might be options. Some of these options include having a family member who is a U.S. citizen submit a petition. She noted that this option has its limitations and only certain family members can submit petitions. A U visa is a “pretty involved process,” but might be an option for those who have been victims of serious crimes. Options also exist for anyone who is in the military or has a family member in the military. Again, Davenport advises all DACA recipients to seek legal counsel.
Another participant on the press call was Ignacia Rodriquez, an immigration policy advocate with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). Rodriquez provided two websites that she said might be helpful: weareheretostay.org and immigrationadvocates.org.
While the future might now be uncertain for many DACA recipients, one thing seems clear: options exist, but it’s necessary to get factual information and to seek legal advice.