10 Years After DACA, Dreamers Still Face Legal Uncertainty

TWhen Susana Lujano (and her husband Luis) first learned that they were eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, it was a blessing. They, along with other undocumented immigrants brought here as children by the Obama administration, were able to obtain work permits and protection against deportation under the Obama-era executive orders.

But, as DACA’s 10th anniversary approaches on Wednesday, the Lujanos still remain in legal confusion. And it’s not just them anymore: their 5-month-old baby Joaquín is an American citizen. His future also depends on his parents’ ability to stay in the only country any of them have ever known.

DACA was created as a temporary measure. However, Congress failed to provide a pathway for permanent citizenship. Even though Republicans argued that Obama didn’t have the power to protect young Dreamers from harm, they have repeatedly challenged DACA in court. The result is that some 611,000 active DACA recipients, a generation long thought of as kids, are adults now, with jobs and homes and children of their own—and they remain in crippling legal limbo.

Based on December 2021 U.S. data, the average DACA recipient now stands at 28. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS). DACA recipients who are over 36 years old are more than those under 20. A 2021 survey conducted by the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute, found that 33%—or more than 203,000—of DACA recipients have children of their own; 99% of those children were born in the U.S.

Continue reading: A Dreamer’s Life

Bruna Sollod was 21 years old when DACA was granted to her. She says it was much easier for her to handle the uncertainty surrounding her immigration status when she was younger. “I was a junior in college, it was okay for me to think in like two year increments,” she tells TIME. “Now that I’m a mom, now that I have a career that I really love, thinking in two year increments doesn’t work anymore.” Sollod is the mother to a 4-month-old boy, an American citizen.

Not knowing if you can keep your job, whether you’ll be deported, or if you’ll be able to raise your child in the country he was born changes the calculus of life, she says. “I’m angry that it takes so much suffering for members of Congress to realize that they have a job to do,” she says. “That makes me angry, and I don’t think I thought about it back then.”

Matthew La Corte is the Niskanen Center’s government affairs manager for immigration policy. He says that the consequences of ending DACA are more serious as older generations become eligible. “It isn’t just that some really bright high school student is not going to be able to go to the college they want or get the job they want,” he says. “Now, it really means breaking up families, it really means taking highly productive people out of the workforce, it really means the potential for the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who have U.S. citizen children, that their future is in peril.”

DACA at court

In it’s 10-year history, Republicans have challenged DACA and attempts to expand it numerous times in court. Texas successfully blocked an Obama Administration executive that would have protected DACA recipients’ parents from being deported when it brought its case before the Supreme Court in June 2016. Trump Administration took other steps to stop the program. The Trump Administration announced on Sept. 5, 2017 that it would terminate DACA. This caused a flurry of lawsuits to try and protect the program.

The lawsuit was brought by conservative Attorneys General led by Ken Paxton from Texas. They argued that DACA must be ended because it was illegally created and President Obama exceeded his executive authority in implementing the program. U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of Texas, decided in July 2021 that DACA should be allowed to continue and USCIS could not process new applications from people who had qualified.

Continue reading:It is not legal to leave

Biden Administration appealed against the decision. On July 6, oral arguments will be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Immigration experts and advocates believe that the Texas case will be heard by the Supreme Court.

Susana Lujano (18 years old) received DACA when she was 18. She now works as a Houston-based practice assistant. According to her, the Trump years were among the hardest and most painful of her entire life. “At no point did I imagine it being so hard fought against,” she tells TIME over a Zoom call, while her mother feeds Joaquín in the background. “It was just blind hope.”

What are the chances of Congress taking action?

Crowds assembled in Washington, D.C., in front the Capitol Building, and at other rallies across the nation to mark the 10th anniversary of DACA, and call for Congress to provide a path to citizenship to Dreamers.

Advocates met on Capitol Hill with legislators to push Congress for a path to citizenship to Dreamers. La Corte believes that such an action is unlikely. “While I encourage Congress to get its act together and pass legislation protecting Dreamers, I think we all need to be realistic about the unlikelihood of action,” he says.

A 2020 Pew Research Center poll found that 74% of Americans support allowing young immigrants brought here illegally to become citizens. A majority of Democrats, or those inclined to Democratic politics, favor permanent residence for Dreamers. 54% of Republicans, or those inclined toward Republicanism, agree.

Continue reading: Read President Trump’s Full Statement on Rescinding DACA

The issue of immigration continues to be highly divisive in American politics. “There is an enormous lack of political will in addressing Dreamers this Congress,” La Corte says, unless something drastic like the Supreme Court terminating DACA were to happen. “Absent legal action which forces Congress’s hands, it is incredibly unlikely that Congress would be able to pass Dreamer protections in 2022.”

Sollod is the current senior communications and political Director for United We Dream. This immigrant advocacy group says that inaction is unacceptable. “A milestone like this, such as the 10th anniversary, really puts a lot of things into perspective,” she says. “What does the next 10 years look like? It can’t be this way again. It can’t be a repeat of the last 10 years.”

Should DACA be terminated, Susana says, and were she to receive a deportation order, she’d leave on her own before immigration officials could detain her. “I’m not waiting for them to come and take us,” she says. “I want us to leave with our head held high.” And yes, she adds, Joaquín would go with her.

Read More From Time

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