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DACA Dilemma: The Pawn in Immigration Reform

How Dreamers became America’s most significant immigration concern.

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How Did It Begin?

One of the most significant parts of President Barack Obama’s immigration policy was the DACA program. DACA stands for Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, an executive policy ordering the United States Department of Homeland Security to halt deporations of immigrants brought to the United States as children. Under the system, people who have lived illegally in the country since childhood can apply for work permits. The applicants to the DACA program are often referred to as “Dreamers.”

DACA has had many benefits and consequences for both approved applicants and the American population. According to the Cato Institute, DACA recipients produce a fiscal impact of about $60 billion, a massive economic impact on the United States today.

Where Does The Debate Lie?

According to polls, Americans overwhelmingly support allowing DACA reciepients to stay in the country. According to Pew Research, 74% of Americans supported granting total legal status to immigrants brought to the United States as children. Since these migrants were raised in the U.S., they may not have anywhere else to go. DACA recipients have often already started careers, bank accounts, and families that provide economic benefit to America.

Attitudes to illegal immigration are often divided along party lines, with the Republicans against it and Democrats increasingly in favor of open borders. Even so, a majority of Republicans support the DACA program; an interesting piece of data since the main opposition to the DACA program comes from Republicans concerned about crime and Americans’ job security.

In addition, there have been criticisms over the program waiving education requirements, and the large number of DACA beneficiaries found to have criminal records. Many argue that the existence of the DACA program encourages adults to cross the border illegally to secure a future for their children and future families. While it’s clear that most Americans support the program according to public polls, many critics of the program also go after the legality of the program’s existence.

The Legality

From its beginning, DACA was never intended to be a permanent executive order. Former President Obama stated the following:

“This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure…”

Obama insisted that upon passage of a bill called the DREAM Act, the executive order that started DACA would no longer be necessary. The DREAM Act (Development, Relifer, and Education for Alien Minors Act) was introduced years before Obama’s presidency, and was intended to grant residency to immigrants who entered the United States as children.

The DREAM Act was never passed, and Obama saw the DACA executive order as a means to accelerate the passage of the law. Critics saw this as a means to force legislation through a divided Congress. The arguments against DACA’s legality stem from this decision. It is Congress’ responsibility to pass laws about immigration, but in this case, the executive branch acted when it became clear that Congress was too gridlocked to pass reform.

Problems and Solutions

The debate has continued throughout the Trump presidency, with mixed signals being given over President Trump’s intentions for the policy. The administration made moves to rescind the DACA program, but that was blocked by the Supreme Court in June, 2020, due to a technicality.

The only realistic solution to this standoff would be for Congress to step in and pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill that would no longer make the DACA program necessary. The DREAM Act is in limbo as Senate Republicans disapprove, but it will only prove more difficult for legislators to continue ignoring the issue.

Jose Backer, General Assignment Reporter, is a graduate of St. Michael's College and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Political Science. Born and raised in Southern California, he currently resides in the Pasadena area.

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