DACA: the other school problem that won’t go away

While the country was overwhelmed with coverage of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Congress shot down several bills that would have begun the process of immigration reform.

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Both Democrats and Republicans said the future of the Dreamers—young undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children—may not be settled anytime soon, the New York Times reported last week after efforts to pass legislation failed, just a few weeks before the March 5 deadline imposed by President Donald Trump.

After that, if Congress doesn’t take action to change course, the protection given to Dreamers by President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will start to expire. It’s good for two years, so some Dreamers will be covered until March 2020, but about a thousand Dreamers every day are expected to lose their protection because they’re unable to renew it.

Mr Obama’s executive order is considered a discretionary action. It’s not “illegal” for him to use discretion in this way, despite what some Republicans have said about the DACA program. The US only has so many agents working in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office within the Department of Homeland Security. Mr Obama simply said as long as they register every two years, the US will keep deferring the enforcement of deportation orders.

What those children did—coming into the country without permission—is just as illegal under DACA as it was before. But ICE had bigger fish to fry, in Mr Obama’s opinion, so he crafted this executive order we call DACA.

Right now, an estimated 680,000 people are protected from deportation by DACA out of between 14 and 20 million US residents who are probably eligible for deportation, according to the Migration Policy Institute and the US Center for Immigration Studies. CIS tracks this statistic and publishes reports occasionally. Most are aged between 16 and 35, and about 9,000 of them are teachers in K-12 schools.

But most commonly, the beneficiaries of DACA are college students, either undergraduates or graduates. And that’s a big part of the problem with delay.

For DACA people, they may be deported to a country they have never known or they may not, depending on what law Congress does or doesn’t pass. But DACA is, in many cases, the only thing between these illegal aliens and the unemployment line. That’s because while DACA does give them permission to hold a job in the US, when that protection expires, it is unclear what their current employers will do. Will they fire the DACA recipients?

And then, when they lose their job, many will lose their only means of paying for college. That means they’re likely to drop out of college. So, if they’re not going to finish their degree, what’s the point of even taking a few classes? They might as well use whatever money they can make to help support their families.

A note to student journalists

In a conference call Wednesday, Dina Francesca Haynes, an immigration attorney with New England Law, strongly endorsed the idea of DACA recipients not showing up at any school function designed to talk about immigration or DACA. Just showing up may shine a spotlight on them and make them a potential target for ICE agents once their protection expires.

That advice, while legally sound, defeats both the point of educating students and of the workings of a free press. That is, Congress isn’t the only group of people who don’t know how to proceed on this subject.

And when it comes to covering stories about DACA, Ms Haynes suggested talking with immigration lawyers or immigration advocacy groups instead of putting the names of individual DACA recipients on the record, even in a student newspaper. Personally, I have suggested keeping students’ names out of stories altogether, but that suggestion goes double if the student is a DACA recipient.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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