Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) came to an end last week when President Trump ended the program via a six-month sunset expiration. This decision follows months of anticipation for the roughly 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants – most of whom are adults now – who have been protected by this program. In six months, these people will find themselves without a country to call home and at serious risk of being deported.
DACA was established by then-President Obama in July 2012 by executive order as a response to Congress’ inability to pass legislation regarding immigration. Since it is an executive order, it can be unilaterally ended by a president and does not have the same protection as a law passed by Congress. Its inception is credited to the repeated unsuccessful passage of the DREAM Act, from 2007 to 2013, which would have granted permanent residency to undocumented immigrants that graduated from high school, among other requirements. DACA, similar to the DREAM Act in how it aims to protect children of undocumented immigrants through their formative years and education progress, bestows a form of recognized and protected immigration status for the group of immigrants that were brought into the United States as children.
President Obama’s goals for DACA were to establish certainty in the lives of a group of young, law-abiding, undocumented immigrants and grant them the legal protections that Congress could not, or would not, recognize. To be eligible, applicants had to be under the age of 16 when they entered the United States, be younger 31 years old as of June 15, 2012, and live continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007. According to a 2017 study by Tim K. Wong, of UC San Diego, 54 percent of DACA claimants were less than seven years old when they were brought to the United States. DACA protections have to be renewed every two years, and the majority of DACA holders are adults.
All of this changed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s plans to end DACA. Its repeal is a victory for the GOP, marking several years of Republican opposition over the program. The GOP’s main contention is that the program is unconstitutional and an abuse of executive power. Then-candidate Trump campaigned on the promise of a “day one” repeal of DACA if he were elected. Following his election, the Department of Homeland Security ended its efforts to expand DACA protections to new claimants on June 16, 2017. On September 5, 2017, the Attorney General announced the end of the program in its totality.
The Trump administration has placed DACA into an induced coma, with a prognosis of six months to live. President Trump wants to see Congress solve the issue of immigration. Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed the administration’s sentiment for a “merit-based” immigration policy in a press conference regarding the end of DACA. With such an impasse in Congress regarding immigration policy, many are skeptical DACA’s protections will be replicated.
Reactions to the repeal of DACA have been swift. Beyond the immigrant community, civil rights groups, colleges, union and business leaders and many others have decried the Trump administration’s actions. President Obama, who has rarely criticized President Trump, called the decision to repeal DACA “cruel” and “self-defeating.” He also asserted that the protection of immigrant rights is more than just a political football, but also “a moral question,” adding, “whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us.”
Soon we’ll see whether or not Congress will solve the DACA dilemma that the country faces, and whether or not President Trump is genuine in his statements such as “I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents.” Many Americans who lived in anxious optimism since President Trump’s inauguration have had their lives turned upside down and could soon be stateless. Congress will have to decide their futures by an early-March deadline.