On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama stood in the White House Rose Garden and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants. By his executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protected them from deportation and granted access to educational and work opportunities that have allowed many of them to thrive.
However, DACA was never meant as a permanent solution. It was a stopgap response to legislative inaction on immigration. Ten years later, the program has proved an unquestionable boon to America, yet these young people without legal permission to be in the U.S. remain in legal limbo as Congress’ disgraceful dithering continues.
To allow a decade to pass is shameful; to allow it to go on any longer would be a tragedy.
“On the 10-year anniversary, the whole idea of DACA is kind of bittersweet,” said Merkys Gomez, staff attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “These are individuals who were brought to this country as children, they have grown up here and are part of the fiber of America, whether Congress wants to accept them or not.”
Currently, more than 600,000 people benefit from deferred action nationwide. DACA recipients have made the most out of the opportunity offered by the program. They have gone to college and launched careers, bought homes and started businesses. They pay almost $3.5 billion in taxes and contribute more than $40 billion annually to the U.S. economy.
The price they’ve paid for living the American Dream has been a decade of uncertainty, of being able to step out of the shadows only to live under a cloud. DACA status must be renewed every two years, with a fee paid to the government and no guarantees that a delay in processing or some bureaucratic snafu won’t suspend their work permit and mean a loss of employment.
These young migrants have also been used as bargaining chips in the larger immigration debate and targeted by hard-liners who ignore not only their contribution to their adoptive country but the widespread public recognition of their plight. Polling has consistently shown that about three-quarters of Americans support granting permanent legal status to immigrants who came illegally to the U.S. when they were children — including a majority of Republicans.
That didn’t keep former President Donald Trump, or a group of Republican attorneys general led by Texas, from trying to kill DACA. After a back and forth in the courts, they’ve succeeded in blocking any new applications to the program, leaving tens of thousands of potential recipients on the sidelines and unable to live up to their full potential. The matter will be taken up by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals next month and is likely to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
DACA recipients need clarity and support, not one more minute holding their breath while they await a court decision that could upend their lives. Congress must give these young immigrants a path to permanent legal status.
Anything less is America’s loss.