Equity & Diversity

DACA Continues for Now, as Does Uncertainty for ‘Dreamers’

By Corey Mitchell — March 06, 2018 4 min read
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For months, President Donald Trump cited March 5 as the deadline for determining the fate of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

But the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal last week to intervene in a legal battle over DACA—which protects 690,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation and grants them work permits—is a temporary reprieve for the young adults brought to the United States illegally as children.

The court’s decision ensures DACA will remain in effect for recipients after the deadline originally set by Trump in September. It also extends an ongoing state of limbo for the undocumented immigrants popularly known as “Dreamers.”

Seeking to bypass a step in the appeals process, the U.S. Department of Justice had petitioned the Supreme Court to intervene in the case, allowing the Trump administration to bypass the U.S. Court of Appeal for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, in its bid to end DACA.

On immigration issues, the 9th Circuit has been a thorn in the side of the Trump administration, upholding injunctions against the president’s travel ban, an executive order that temporarily barred immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, and an executive order designed to deny federal funds to “sanctuary cities,” jurisdictions that decline to use their resources to help enforce federal immigration laws.

It’s not clear when the 9th Circuit will hear the latest Trump administration appeal—and the case could still eventually end up before the Supreme Court.

For the time being though, DACA-protected immigrants whose permits lapsed, or those with permits that will expire soon, may continue to apply for renewals.

Still in Limbo

In setting the September deadline, Trump said he wanted to give Congress six months to find a legislative solution to address the status of the young undocumented people who benefit from the program.

On the political front, the Supreme Court decision also takes some of the immediate pressure off lawmakers in Congress trying to pass immigration legislation, something they’ve tried and failed to do for more than a decade.

DACA remains a divisive issue on Capitol Hill despite the outpouring of public support from school and business leaders across the country who favor giving the Dreamers legal status.

In mid-February, the Republican-led Senate rejected a series of immigration bills—including one backed by Trump—that were designed to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

While Trump publicly urged Congress to act and pass a bill that protects DACA recipients from deportation, he also used their fate as leverage to push priorities such as additional border security and tighter restrictions on family-based immigration.

But without a hard deadline and with less pressure on lawmakers, immigration advocates are concerned that negotiations on Capitol Hill could lose urgency.

As lawmakers plot their next steps, the fallout from the Trump administration’s policy is affecting student attendance and behavior in the nation’s classrooms.

The Washington-based Migration Policy Institute estimates that a quarter-million students have become DACA-eligible since President Barack Obama began the program in 2012 and that about 9,000 undocumented, DACA-protected teachers work in U.S. schools.

On top of that, millions of U.S.-born students in the nation’s schools are the children of undocumented immigrants, many of whom aren’t protected by DACA and are at risk for deportation.

A new national survey from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that 84 percent of educators have students who have experienced emotional or behavioral problems because they are concerned about immigration enforcement. Among those educators, 36 percent report that their students felt “nearly overwhelmed by fear and worry.”

Educators from 24 school districts in 12 states–Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas–participated in the 14-question survey, which was administered online between late October and mid-January

Expiring Permits

In terms of what DACA means for undocumented immigrants, March 5 was merely a point that would have accelerated the end of the program. But that process actually began Sept. 5, 2017, when the Trump administration stopped accepting new applications.

That means eligible undocumented immigrants who turned 15 after that date still won’t be able to apply, and neither will immigrants who would have qualified for DACA but never applied.

Since then, roughly 120 immigrants per day have had their DACA-issued work permits expire because they were unable to apply in time for renewals, according to estimates from the Center for American Progress. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that the number of immigrants losing their protected status would speed up after March 5, with an average of 915 DACA permits expiring daily.

But because of a pair of recent court decisions, and now the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the DACA case, that acceleration may not happen.

In January, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA and told U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to resume accepting renewal applications from immigrants who had DACA protection and lost it or are in danger of losing it. Then, in February, a federal judge in New York issued a similar injunction.

How many DACA recipients have been able to take advantage of the rulings is unclear. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that oversees immigration policy, does not have data on how many renewal requests are coming in, said Steve Blando, an agency spokesman.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2018 edition of Education Week as DACA Continues for Now, as Does Uncertainty for ‘Dreamers’

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