Immigrant Youth, DACA’s Future Under Immediate Threat

By Duy Pham and Wendy Cervantes

On July 20, 2017, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, which would enable “Dreamers”—immigrant youth who entered the U.S. as children—to earn their citizenship. One week later, the House version of the bill was introduced by Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). The new bill is more progressive than previous iterations and reflects the full diversity of the undocumented youth population. An estimated 1.8 million Dreamers would be immediately eligible for conditional permanent resident status under the bill’s requirements.

While the Dream Act provides a path forward, the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program remains under threat. If DACA is discontinued, over 800,000 beneficiaries—many of them students—would be placed in peril.  Moreover, the move would severely undermine our shared national interest.  

For over five years, DACA has significantly changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, providing eligible immigrants a reprieve from deportation and a two-year work permit. According to a 2016 survey, 46 percent of DACA beneficiaries were currently enrolled in secondary or postsecondary education. Of those students, 92 percent said DACA allowed them to pursue educational opportunities that they previously could not. Despite verbal attacks on undocumented immigrants during the 2016 presidential election, many postsecondary institutions and associations have pledged to support DACA students. K-12 school districts have also stepped up efforts to protect young immigrants. The program’s impact goes beyond beneficiaries to their families and communities. DACA youth bolster the U.S. economy, promote a dynamic workforce, and strengthen our nation’s educational institutions.

Despite broad support for Dreamers, the current Administration has continued to send mixed signals regarding DACA’s future. Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, 9 other state AGs and the Governor of Idaho petitioned the Trump Administration to rescind DACA by September 5, 2017. Specifically, their joint letter asked the Administration to “rescind the June 15, 2012 DACA memorandum and…not renew or issue any new DACA or Expanded DACA permits in the future.” If the Administration does not rescind DACA, Paxton has threated to bring the program before the United States District Court. That would require the Trump Administration to defend it in federal court. If the Administration does rescind the program, over 800,000 DACA youth and young adults will eventually lose their status.

Recognizing this threat against immigrant youth, attorneys general from 19 other states and the District of Columbia are urging the Administration to maintain and defend DACA and to continue to support Dreamers. In addition, 42 Democratic Senators have separately called for the President to keep DACA in place. Other bills have also been introduced in Congress that would provide a path to citizenship to DACA beneficiaries and other undocumented youth, including the American Hope Act, introduced by Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and the Recognizing America’s Children Act, introduced by Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). With so much on the line, the time to act is now.

The Dream Act has given Congress an opportunity to provide Dreamers a permanent solution, free from harmful enforcement provisions. However, it’s also critical that the Trump Administration stand up for the future of our nation’s immigrant youth and keep DACA in place until Congress passes a long-term solution. Ending DACA would be a devastating blow to hundreds of thousands of young people who consider this country home. It would also be disastrous for the educational institutions that serve DACA students.