The “Dreamers” are in limbo. President Donald Trump said in 2017 he was scrapping Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program crafted by his predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2012 to shield young, undocumented immigrants from deportation. Efforts to forge a replacement in Congress failed. Courts blocked execution of most of Trump’s order, prompting the president to file a challenge in the Supreme Court, which in June agreed to hear the case. The court is likely to resolve the issue in the heat of the 2020 election campaign.
1. What is DACA, exactly?
It’s a policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children before 2007 to apply for renewable, two-year permits that protect them from deportation and allow them to work legally. Applicants must have been less than 16 years old when they arrived and younger than 31 when DACA began in 2012. They must have no significant criminal record and be enrolled in high school or have a diploma or the equivalent. The program doesn’t provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship.
2. Why did Trump call for DACA’s demise?
He promised during his 2016 presidential campaign to end DACA -- one of several anti-immigration stances that won him praise from his conservative base. Trump’s supporters have said that Dreamers are being rewarded for breaking the law, even as children, and that they are taking jobs away from Americans. Ten Republican state attorneys general threatened to sue the U.S. if Trump didn’t follow through on his plan. Like Trump, the AGs argued that Obama had violated the Constitution’s separation of powers by making a unilateral decision about immigration without congressional input.
3. What’s the view in Congress?
Democrats, along with a handful of Republicans, generally have sought to protect Dreamers in exchange for funding the wall that Trump wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border. Many Republicans also want changes in legal immigration, such as ending visa preferences for family members of U.S. citizens -- what Trump disparages as “chain migration.” Trump in May unveiled a plan to overhaul the immigration system that is silent on DACA. Because Democrats and moderate Republican senators have said their support for a sweeping bill is contingent on protecting Dreamers, the plan stands little chance of passing. Efforts in Congress to craft a replacement to DACA in 2018 failed, resulting in a three-day government shutdown.
4. What have the courts said?
Early on, federal courts in San Francisco and New York blocked Trump from abolishing DACA, saying the administration needed to give a better justification than its assertion that the program wasn’t legal. The Supreme Court then denied the administration’s request to take up the matter immediately. In November, Trump’s legal team filed three fast-track appeals asking the Supreme Court to consider letting him end DACA.
5. Who’s protected by DACA?
As many as 1.3 million people were immediately eligible, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Of those, about 800,000 have enrolled. Another 400,000 would be eligible if they met the education requirement. About 230,000 more are younger than the minimum age of 15 but would become eligible if they get a high-school diploma or equivalent. The vast majority are from Mexico, with smaller contingents from Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries. Most have no connection to their previous countries. Some didn’t know they were undocumented until they sought driver’s licenses or college aid. Current law makes it difficult for them to obtain legal status unless they leave the country and apply.
6. What’s happening to Dreamers now?
The courts ordered the government to continue processing applications for renewals of the two-year DACA permits but allowed it to stop accepting new ones. Dreamers have been swept up in cases that have made national news. For example, Selene Saavedra Roman, a 28-year-old flight attendant, was arrested by immigration authorities in Houston and held for six weeks after working a Mesa Airlines flight to Mexico. Saavedra Roman, who came to the U.S. at age 3, graduated from Texas A&M University and is married to a U.S. citizen, was released from custody following protests from the company and colleagues.
7. Did DACA cause a child-immigrant surge?
Trump claims DACA triggered a “massive surge” of undocumented children from Central America to the U.S. via Mexico in 2013 and 2014, some of whom joined violent gangs such as MS-13. It’s true that tens of thousands of children surged across the southern border, many fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. It’s also possible they didn’t know about, or misunderstood, DACA’s age requirements. It’s more likely that child immigrants were drawn to the U.S. by another law, the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, signed by President George W. Bush, which required that child immigrants from countries other than Canada and Mexico should be promptly placed in a refugee resettlement program.
8. Did DACA result in job losses and lower wages?
The claim by Trump that Dreamers have taken hundreds of thousands of jobs away from natural-born citizens isn’t really backed by economic reality. It supposes that there is a fixed number of jobs in the world instead of a figure that changes as more people arrive in a given country, by birth or immigration. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, including George Borjas, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Using labor economist David Card’s study of the 1980 boatlift of about 125,000 Cuban immigrants, most of whom settled in Miami, Borjas suggested they largely took jobs away from locals rather than creating additional ones. Critics said Borjas made incorrect use of Census data. There is still no agreement.
9. What are employers saying?
Business leaders, particularly from the immigration-friendly technology industry, have warned Trump that ending the program would have economic and social consequences. Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg called Trump’s decision “particularly cruel,” while Microsoft Corp. President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said the company is “deeply disappointed” by the move and urged Congress to quickly replace DACA with new legislation. In a blog post, Smith said Microsoft will provide legal counsel to any employee protected by DACA that the government seeks to deport.
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