The Vital Importance of DACA Protections

This audio recording is from CLASP’s interview with a DACA recipient. The full transcript is included in this article.

By Rosa Garcia

August marked the sixth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Since 2012, the program has transformed the lives of more than 820,000 undocumented immigrant youth.

DACA has provided work authorization, temporary relief from deportation, and opportunities to pursue postsecondary education. The program has helped undocumented immigrant youth increase their economic security, access driver’s licenses, and improve their overall health and wellbeing. According to a new national survey of DACA recipients, 96 percent are currently employed or enrolled in school. Without DACA protections, undocumented immigrant youth will be subject to deportation and lose their ability to work and sustain themselves and their families.

Having arrived as children, undocumented immigrant youth are long-term residents of the United States with deep ties to their families and communities. They deserve an opportunity to pursue their dreams and aspirations in a country they know as home. They are family members, friends, neighbors, students, workers, and classmates. It is estimated that 25 percent of DACA recipients have a child who is a U.S. citizen. And DACA recipients with college degrees are contributing to the workforce as educators, health care professionals, lawyers, innovators, public servants, and community leaders.

Despite DACA’s success, the Trump Administration ended the program on September 5, 2017. Since then, Congress has failed to pass a permanent legislative fix for undocumented immigrant youth. The House and Senate Republican leadership and the Trump Administration have thwarted bipartisan efforts to pass a clean Dream Act, despite national polls indicating that most Americans support legal protections for undocumented immigrant youth.

Several lawsuits have been filed against the Trump Administration for terminating the program. While multiple court rulings have allowed DACA recipients to renew their status—and Judge Hanen of the U.S. District Court of Texas recently denied the request from Texas and nine other states to stop DACA renewals—the program remains under legal threat. Stripping away important legal protections for undocumented immigrant youth is cruel and inhumane. States seeking to end the DACA program should drop their lawsuit and reconsider the devastating consequences of their legal actions on undocumented immigrant youth and families and focus their efforts on passing the Dream Act.

CLASP spoke with a DACA recipient about his hopes, dreams, and career aspirations. In the following interview, he shared his thoughts on DACA and how it has transformed his life. To protect his privacy, we have not identified him by name.

Reflections from a DACA Recipient

Rosa García: Can you tell me about a little bit about yourself?

DACA Recipient: I am one of 800,000 DACA recipients. I was born in Jalisco, México and grew up to a migrant family. I’m also hiker, spoken word poet, policy advocate, and researcher. In terms of my educational background, I’m a community college transfer and first-generation college student. I grew up in a household with limited resources and am grateful for the support that my family has given me to pursue my community and academic endeavors.

I got involved with activism when I realized that the immigrant community I had grown up in had been historically criminalized. The mere thought of looking into a child’s eyes while listening to them talk about their mother be deported was something that catapulted me into fighting for what is right. But I know it doesn’t have to be that way and that’s why I’m an activist. My mission is to amplify the voices of immigrant communities in a just and equitable manner. While in community college, I organized DACA workshops to bring free legal counsel to hundreds of DACA applicants.

With a full-ride scholarship, I’m currently working toward my BA in Society, Ethics and Human Behavior with a minor in Human Rights. As a student advocate, I have represented 130,000 students and helped to advocate for policies to help undocumented immigrant youth access a postsecondary education. Because of that, I recently earned a leadership award in 2018.

Rosa García: Can you describe your educational journey?

DACA Recipient: I attended Migrant Head Start and graduated from high school. From a young age, my parents told me there was no money for college and that was a reality I could not reconcile. My options skewed toward loans, but I viewed debt as a poverty trap. Debt instilled more fear in me than my own status. As a result, I excelled in my academics and avoided the costly void of student debt. I also realized that my academics alone would not suffice in the face in continuous attacks, so I engineered my college education with a blend of advocacy and civic engagement.

Rosa García: What kind of impact have the legal protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program had on you, your family, and the lives of other undocumented immigrant youth?

DACA Recipient: The glass ceiling of uncertainty was lifted-at least while my permit is still valid. It has allowed my career development to truly flourish. It has allowed me to advocate for thousands of students. I feel like a human being. My family feels like some justice has been done for me and in return, I tell them that the fight is not over. DACA is great, but it’s still an executive band aid. DACA is the result of undocumented youth who responded to the indignity of criminalization.

Rosa García: In your view, what has the DACA program achieved since its inception?

DACA Recipient: It has set a real precedent to uplifting the holistic livelihood of our lives. We aren’t statistics at the end of the day; we are part of your communities, and DACA has resurrected the ability for us to be seen. DACA recipients feel like they are part of the community.

Rosa García: What are some of the greatest challenges that undocumented immigrant youth currently face in this country?

DACA Recipient: In my opinion, the greatest challenge lies is reconciling the uncertainty of our life while holding onto hope during these politically asthmatic times. It’s like the undocumented professionals who support other undocumented folks. It’s a segmented reality we fight for others, while fighting the battles ourselves.

Rosa García: As a DACA recipient, what message would you like to convey to federal, state and local policymakers and the general public?

DACA Recipient: First and foremost, I want to call on to legislatures to enable higher education access for undocumented youth and enable in-state tuition. We are part of your communities, and we subsidize higher education by paying taxes. We don’t have undocumented cards which exempt us from paying taxes. Representatives need to understand that we have been long-term residents and that future generations will look back to this Congress in dismay and frustration because it could not validate the dreams and aspirations of our community. I call on Congress to change the course of history.

Rosa García: What will happen if DACA protections are stripped away and Congress fails to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth?

DACA Recipient: Deportation looms. The sense of urgency is critical. Nearly a million of us reside in a perpetual limbo. Congress needs to stop playing political football with our life and do their job. We need a permanent legislative fix. It’s bad economic policy, and it’s not morally correct to deport young minds looking to improve their communities.

This testimony is not uncommon; it exemplifies the outstanding contributions that countless DACA recipients have made to communities across the nation. Through our work as an anti-poverty organization that promotes racial equity and economic mobility for low-income students, CLASP and our federal and state partners will continue to stand with undocumented immigrant youth. We will advocate for the safety, economic security, and health and wellbeing of these young adults.