A panel of immigration experts and undocumented immigrants discussed how the recent repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could affect thousands of people living in the United States on Sept. 26.
The DACA program, passed during the Obama administration in 2012, has provided approximately 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants with a social security number, a driver’s license and protection from deportation. President Donald Trump announced on Sept. 5 that the program would be rescinded after a six-month period.
“I came here when I was a baby, and when I grew up, I didn’t have the paperwork to get the job that I wanted to get to change the world the way I wanted to,” said DACA recipient Tony Albarca, a biology major. “When DACA came around, it was a dream come true. That’s why we are called the ‘dreamers,’ because for many students it was a dream for them to live in a country where you can work hard and achieve your goals.”
Some panelists expressed concerns that rescinding DACA would negatively impact the national economy by not allowing undocumented immigrants to hold jobs that would contribute to the nation’s economic development.
“When you take away 800,000 work permits it’s going to affect the economy,” said Sam Aguilar, an organizing manager for FWD.us, a lobbying group that advocates for immigration reform. “First, employers are losing good, hard-working people, and second of all, a lot of these DACA recipients are entrepreneurs, and they’re hiring American workers into their companies.”
According to FWD.us, $329 billion would be added to the American economy if DACA recipients were given citizenship, and the federal deficit would be reduced by $897 billion over 20 years.
Trump has given Congress a six-month period to find a permanent solution for undocumented immigrants, and the panelists remained optimistic about Congress’ ability to come up with a replacement that will benefit DACA recipients.
“We are the closest we ever been to a bi-partisan bill passing,” said Luisa F. Cardona, deputy director of Immigrant Affairs for the city of Atlanta. “I do think it’s one of those moments we’ve seen more action in the legislature than we’ve ever seen before, and that why these conversations are so important right now.”
DACA provides recipients with almost the same rights that a U.S. citizen has, but with some significant limitations. For instance, DACA recipients are not allowed to vote and can’t travel outside of the country. A person’s DACA status can also be revoked or discontinued at any time.
Immigration Paralegal Raymond Partolan, who is himself a DACA recipient, noted that while DACA recipients have lawful presence in the U.S., they do not have lawful status.
“It’s really important to understand there is a distinction between lawful presence and lawful status,” Partolan said. “Lawful presence means we are not permanent immigrants to the United States because we don’t have a pathway to become immigrants to the country.”
DACA recipients must have immigrated to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, must have continuously lived in the U.S. since 2007, must not have committed a felony and must have been enrolled in or completed school during the time in which they applied for DACA status.
The creation of DACA by executive order came out of a failed attempt to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, which would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.