A little over a month ago, the Trump administration announced it was rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Since 2012, DACA has provided work authorization and temporary relief from deportation to approximately 800,000 young immigrants — Dreamers — who came to the United States as children. Today, these young people are 25 years old on average and have been in the country for at least 10 years — much longer for many.
Undocumented youth hold the same promise as all youth in our country and have a right to the same opportunities and freedoms we expect for any young person in America. Ending the DACA program places families at risk of separation, threatens the economic security of DACA recipients by impacting their ability to work and — most importantly — ignores their humanity.
Many of us held out hope that DACA youth would be spared amidst this administration’s travel ban executive orders and enforcement directives from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security targeting immigrant communities. However, this decision should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the administration’s race-baiting and xenophobic rhetoric manifested through its executive orders, budget proposals and agency policies.
Here are five things my fellow youth development advocates and practitioners should know about the DACA program and should be doing to protect Dreamers.
- “It would be wonderful to solve the DACA problem”—President Trump, October 2017
Make no mistake about it, ending the DACA program was Trump’s choice. Contrary to tweets, press conferences and interviews, the decision to end this program falls squarely on the president. In June, nine state attorneys general led by Ken Paxton of Texas submitted a letter threatening a lawsuit unless the administration rescinded DACA by Sept. 5. This letter did not hold any legal power. Instead of upholding the program and working with Congress on a permanent legislation solution for all Dreamers, the president dealt yet another cruel blow to immigrant youth and their families by rescinding the program over a six-month time period, with varying renewal eligibility requirements. As of Sept. 5, no new DACA applications have been accepted and authorizations and work permits expiring on March 6, 2018 or later cannot be renewed. DACA recipients whose authorizations and work permits expire between now and March 5, 2018 were given an arbitrary one-month deadline to apply for a two-year renewal by Oct. 5. An estimated 118,000 of 154,000 DACA youth eligible for a two-year renewal submitted applications before the deadline. You can find additional details about timelines here.
- Stakes are high for DACA youth and our country, with 1,400 Dreamers who will lose their DACA status each day starting March 6, 2018, meaning they will no longer be eligible to work and will once again be at risk of deportation. DACA youth live in all 50 states and are students, parents, workers and our neighbors. For example, 20,000 DACA teachers are at risk of losing their jobs, which would impact the lives of the hundreds of children and youth who they teach. Over the past several weeks, many vocal supporters from the business community to higher education groups, child and youth advocates and elected officials have stood up for Dreamers and their invaluable contributions they bring to our communities and our nation. Many DACA youth are the primary financial providers in their families, one-quarter of them are parents, and nearly all of them are in school or working.
- There is a path forward: Congress has the responsibility and the power to act. CLASP urges passage of the Dream Act of 2017. The bipartisan Dream Act would provide a clear pathway to citizenship to a wide range of DACA recipients and undocumented youth who meet the bill’s higher education, military or employment requirements. Immigrant youth who did not complete high school could re-enroll in a qualifying program to become eligible for conditional status. After receiving a high school diploma or its equivalent, young people who pursue postsecondary education or who are working could qualify for citizenship. In addition, the Dream Act includes a hardship exception that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers who may not be able to work, attend school or join the military due to factors such as having children.
- The White House released xenophobic Immigration Principles last week, setting up what is sure to be a showdown in Congress. These principles undermine the safety and well-being of immigrant youth and families by ramping up enforcement, criminalizing immigrants, endangering refugees and cutting overall immigration to the United States. We need Congress to reject any harmful enforcement provisions and pass a clean Dream Act that doesn’t give in to the administration’s extremist agenda.
- “We will not go back into the shadows.” In spite of uncertainty and cruelty they face by the highest office in the land, Dreamers continue to demand respect, speak their truth and force our nation to see them. The Dreamer fight is not new. For more than 15 years, young people have been organizing and fighting for basic rights, freedoms and citizenship. Their tenacity, courage and ingenuity in leading this movement deserves both our support and our unwavering partnership over the long haul. We must be armed with an understanding of their rights and join in advocacy efforts. United We Dream has provided some great action steps you can take!
Youth development organizations are places of sanctuary to so many young people and provide spaces for young people to be encouraged, feel safe, express themselves, learn, grow and just be free. We need to step up our game and be in solidarity in words and deeds with Dreamers, their peers and family members who come through our doors and live in our communities. What we say and do matters. History will judge us.
Kisha Bird is director of youth policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy and project director for the Campaign for Youth, a national coalition chaired by CLASP. Focusing on local and federal policy solutions, she works to expand access to education, employment and support services for low-income and opportunity youth, with a focus on young men and women of color.