On July 16th, a Texas federal judge ruled that DACA, the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program, is illegal, and that all new applications to DACA must be halted indefinitely. While President Biden has spoken out against the ruling and the Department of Justice has already filed an appeal, DACA’s fate is uncertain for the first time since its inception in 2012. The Obama administration conceived DACA to allow certain young immigrants who are in the country illegally and brought to the U.S. as minors to live and work in the nation for two-year periods that can be renewed without offering a road to citizenship.
The ruling, which was widely expected, leaves the destiny of thousands of program participants, dubbed “DREAMers,” in the hands of the Biden administration, Congress, and a Supreme Court with a conservative 6-3 majority. Specifically, more than 800,000 undocumented child immigrants have been protected from deportation thanks to DACA, 30,000 of which are healthcare workers. While the case undergoes the appeal process, the judgment permits immigrants who are currently protected by the program to preserve their status and renew their DACA; however, the tens of thousands of DREAMers who applied to DACA for the first time and are awaiting adjudication are out of luck. DACA supporters and advocates believe that these undocumented immigrant children deserve more than the instability and uncertainty of court rulings.
While the discontinuation of DACA certainly spells concern for undocumented immigrants relying on the program to remain in the United States, it has also negatively impacted small business owners. Not only are the DACA applicants worried they might lose work authority, but their employers are equally, if not more, worried. Especially when considering there is already a workforce shortage, small business owners are going ballistic over the prospect of losing key employees after the ruling.
Time to Take Action
On his inauguration day in January, Biden issued a memorandum urging the Department of Homeland Security to take measures to “preserve and fortify” DACA. Additionally, advocacy groups such as the ACLU, The National Immigration Law Center, and The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have already filed to appeal the most recent ruling to the Fifth Circuit. However, Friday’s decision all but ensures the matter will have to be settled by Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court. While these actions are essential steps to ensuring DACA applicants and beneficiaries are not left out to dry, the only avenue that can give complete protection and citizenship to DREAMers is through the passing of legislation.
Therefore, immigration rights activists are asking the Biden administration to preserve DACA and protect all undocumented immigrants through executive action if Congress proves too divided. However, Congress may be more willing to cooperate than previously perceived, as passing the American Dream and Promise Act by the House of Representatives last month was a step in the right direction. The bill, which the House also passed in 2019, would establish a pathway for DREAMers to obtain permanent resident status and eventually citizenship. The bill now resides in the Senate, where its fate remains unknown.
DACA has always presented a delicate situation to undocumented immigrants, and it has never been the answer for all. Instead, DACA has represented a compromise within a compromise since its inception, and there has always been a clear need for a better, more permanent solution. Until there is meaningful immigration reform for all 11 million undocumented people, DACA will never be enough.