Pinal-Alfaro: Why you need to know about DACA

Over five years after its implementation by former President Barack Obama and after months of speculation, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was officially rescinded by the Trump administration this past Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.

Introduced as an executive order in 2012,  Obama confidently stood by this program throughout his tenure as president.  On the day he introduced DACA, he stated that the program was “the right thing to do…because [the] young [undocumented immigrants] [were] going to make extraordinary contributions, and [were] already making contributions to our society”.

For those unfamiliar with the criteria necessary to receive DACA, here are a few facts to dispel common misconceptions about the program. While some believe that any undocumented immigrant can apply for DACA, in reality an individual must have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, and must have been under the age of 31 when applying to the program. Another misconception is that undocumented immigrants applying for DACA are mostly uneducated, do not contribute to the overall well-being of America and actively engage in criminal activity. In fact, it is a requirement that DACA applicants provide evidence that they are attending school, have graduated from high school or received a GED or have served in one of the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Additionally, individuals applying to DACA must not have a criminal record of more than three misdemeanors to qualify.

Now let’s be clear about one common misconception: DACA was never meant to be a permanent solution to immigration in the United States. The benefits of DACA included the ability to legally acquire a work permit as well temporarily defer the threat of deportation. DACA provided this temporary relief for two years, and recipients were able to apply for renewal upon submitting lengthy paperwork as well as a fee of $465.

This was not amnesty or immunity for undocumented immigrants. In Obama’s words, it was meant to be “a temporary stopgap measure” while “giving a degree of relief and hope” to the hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth that had been living in the United States for decades.

In a despicable decision, masquerading as one made in the best interest of the American people, the Trump administration quickly shattered any peace of mind that undocumented immigrants had experienced under DACA. Trump detailed the course of action in a statement released shortly after the official announcement. In it, he stated that new applications for the program will no longer be accepted, though all current work permits will be honored until their date of expiration.

Moreover, applications that have already been filed will be processed, including renewal applications. The six months that the president is allowing before permits begin to expire are meant to“provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act” on comprehensive immigration reform.

In rescinding DACA, Trump and his administration continue to propagate their “America first” attitude while neglecting undocumented youth that former President Obama viewed as “Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: On paper”.

The future of recipients of DACA in the United States is at best uncertain. However, we shall not be complacent with this setback. Rather, those of us fortunate enough to reap the benefits of our status as American citizens are called to action in support of a group of people that have only ever known this country as the land of opportunity. Keeping up with the news, engaging in local and national politics, increasing awareness of obstacles that individuals who are undocumented experience and standing in solidarity with those affected are all excellent actions that demonstrate empathy and support.

Undocumented youth must know that we hear them. They are not alone in this fight. And if you think that this issue does not apply to you, think again. For in the words of former President Obama, they are the “young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag”.

In the land of the free, all should have an equal opportunity to achieve their dreams, regardless of paperwork.