To accomplish great things, it’s not enough to act; we must also dream… Anatole France
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is/was a 5 year old program through which some 790,000 young people who were under 16 when they came to the United States were continuing their studies, working, driving (which is essential through most of the U.S.) and living without fear of deportation for two years.
Introduced by lawmakers in 2001, DACA was meant to address the situation of an estimated 2.1 million immigrant children and young adults who had grown up in the United States and were stuck in an undocumented limbo. They are the children of migrant farmworkers, refugees, small businesspeople and others who have played a major part in developing the economy and culture of the United States. Largely from neighboring Mexico, the flow of capital facilitated by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) did not apply to them, and they have remained an undocumented and exploitable workforce whose children are culturally American but lack the necessary paperwork to prove it.
For 11 years, DACA languished in Congress until the energies and actions of many “undocumented and unafraid” activists and protestors finally convinced former President Obama to enact it by executive order on Aug 15, 2012. In addition to the almost 800,000 registered DACA-holders today are another 200,000 young people in the application process.
Applicants had to have arrived in the United States before turning 16 and spent at least five consecutive years in the country. They needed to be enrolled students, high school or GED diplomaed, or enlisted in the armed forces. And their records needed to be unblemished; no one who had been convicted of a crime or “significant misdemeanor” could get DACA.
An earlier attempt to provide a pathway to citizenship for those who enrolled in either higher education or the armed forces, the DREAM (Development, Education and Relief for Alien Minors) Act, failed in Congress in 2010. A later 2014 measure including parents of US citizens and permanent residents, DAPA, also failed to be enacted. Before leaving office in December 2016, Obama declined to respond to the petition of several congresspersons who asked him to grant a full pardon to DACA Dreamers before leaving office, and the door was left open for a Trump reversal.
In a craven capitulation to its xenophobic tendencies, the Trump administration has announced the end of DACA, with a rapid timetable: a halt to new applications, and a bureaucratically-impossible thirty days to apply for a two-year renewal and six months for Congress to act before the program ends forever. As each Dreamer’s two-year permit expires, it will be impossible to renew and the holder will be subject to arrest, incarceration and deportation.
Armed with a million names and addresses, the federal government, which for nine months has been hard-pressed to locate and deport the many foreign criminals it previously claimed were terrorizing the country, now has the means to effect “an orderly wind-down”. A memo distributed to the press and immigration agencies on Tuesday reads, “The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States.”
As the Trump administration prepares to dismantle DACA, there are some important points worth remembering:
It only protected certain immigrants; it specifically excluded, for example, the unaccompanied Central American minors who applied for refugee status in 2014.
It poignantly pitted children against their parents. A key justification in defense of the legislation is that “the sins of the parents should not be visited on the children,” even if that sin was moving in search of a better life for their families. Many Dreamers are living alone in the United States, as their parents have already been deported.
It discriminated against the disabled, the impaired, the delayed, even the average in its insistence on achievers. The Dreamers were held to a far higher standard than any other Americans.
Theoretically, every human being regardless of their citizenship has constitutional rights in the United States. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has been distributing its “red card” in English, Spanish, Chinese and Hmong, to hand to the police or immigration officer in case of arrest:
“I do not wish to speak with you, answer your questions, or sign or hand you any documents based on my 5th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. I do not give you permission to enter my home based on my 4th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution unless you have a warrant to enter, signed by a judge or magistrate with my name on it that you slide under the door. I do not give you permission to search any of my belongings based on my 4th Amendment rights. I choose to exercise my constitutional rights. These cards are available to citizens and noncitizens alike.”
DACA did not bestow or provide a pathway to residency or citizenship; it was a temporary protection from deportation that needed to be re-examined every two years, during which time the applicant could study, work and drive, but not plan for much beyond each renewal. They were given the chance to sleep, briefly, but never to dream.
Danica Jorden is a writer and translator of Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and other languages. danica.jorden1 (at) gmail (dot) com