The State of the DACA Program

New Yorkers are still able to dream

By Andrew Brandt | Last updated on February 8, 2021

It has been three years since the Trump administration ordered an end to the DACA program.

Originally enacted by President Obama in 2012 after failed efforts at reforming the immigration system, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals shields its recipients from deportation and makes them eligible for work authorization. 

“DACA basically means that the government is not prioritizing nor deporting people who are in this limited class,” says Anastasia Tonello, an immigration attorney at Laura Devine Attorneys. “You can’t adjust status if you haven’t come in through an immigration channel. So people who came as children and who don’t have any proof of it, they’re really in a bad situation.”

To be eligible, applicants had to have arrived in the country before age 16, had to have lived here since June 2007, and had to have been under 31 when the program was enacted.

“It allows recipients to get Social Security numbers, to attend school easier and, of course, to work,” says Michael Z. Goldman, a solo immigration attorney. “Without it, these youngsters—many of whom essentially grew up here like any other U.S. citizen—would be living in the shadows like their parents, unable to participate in society.”

In order to originally establish proof, many applicants used elementary school records or doctor reports. Disqualifying factors include having been convicted of a felony, or three or more non-serious misdemeanors or DUIs. “This is a highly educated group of immigrants who can navigate a lot of the process. I’ve found that most of them deal with this as they would getting their drivers’ license or any other type of permission,” says Tonello. “A lot of them applied without much legal help.”

According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of March 2020, there are just over 643,000 DACA recipients, more than 80 percent of whom come from Mexico. As of 2019, New York had the fourth-most recipients, with 28,180. And according to the Center for American Progress, as of 2017—the year the president announced an end to the program—91 percent of recipients were currently employed, making an average of $17.46 per hour.

In November 2019, oral arguments were held at the U.S. Supreme Court over the administration’s attempt to end the program. This June, the court ruled 5-4 that the administration had not provided a reasoned explanation for doing so.

“The question at the Supreme Court [was] a technical one: whether the Trump administration properly took the steps to rescind a policy enacted by a previous administration,” says Goldman. “This question could apply to any decision taken by the executive branch to overturn a previous administration’s policies. In my opinion, the court must have also been influenced by the dramatic substantive impact its decision would have, despite the technical nature of the legal question the court was considering.”

Says Tonello: “The president wanted to end the program, which seemed within the presidential authority since it was a presidential act. But because of the great impact on the population—that’s the basis of the injunction: It’s too great to leave to that level of executive authority.”

Since the June Supreme Court decision, lawyers have been unsure exactly how the program will operate. Initially, the Trump administration continued to refuse new applications. Then, on July 17, the U.S. District Court in Maryland filed an order that would require USCIS to honor the full scope of the program. But with the president’s continued rhetoric aimed at ending DACA, the program’s practical status remains uncertain.

With DACA under fire, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had not been processing new applications, but had still been processing renewals, which recipients must do every two years. “The renewal process is pretty simple,” says Goldman. “It’s essentially a new form, and they run your fingerprints again, to make sure you haven’t been convicted. They’ll do a new background check. You don’t have to really reestablish anything on a substantive basis.”

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