DACA and DREAMERS – Good news but not enough – Congress needs to act on this.

Most people are extremely sympathetic about helping young people who were brought to the U.S. as young children and grew up here without legal status.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was implemented by executive action by President Obama in 2012. To qualify, the applicant must have arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16 and before June 15, 2007. The program has been the subject of much litigation and has been “closed” to new applicants since July 2021. USCIS has accepted new applicants since then but has been sitting on them due to a court case prohibiting them from approving the cases. President Biden just last week announced a new rule that will take effect October 31st. It does not change much from the 2012 executive action but is intended to improve its chances against future legal challenges which will certainly come. We do expect that new applications will now be processed and approved.

The term Dreamers has a broader meaning than DACA. It refers to undocumented persons brought to the U.S. as children. DACA recipients are those who entered before June 15, 2007, and were under the age of 16 at that time. Whether they are eligible for DACA or not, dreamers grew up as Americans, identify as Americans, many speak only English, and have no connection to the country where they were born. Under current law, most have no way to obtain legal residence. Many dreamers did not know that they were undocumented immigrants until they were teenagers and could not get a driver’s license, apply for college, or enlist in the military. Some have started businesses and employ U.S. people.

There was an interesting story in the Boston Globe about Victor Santos, who in 2019 made the Forbes “30 under 30” list after founding a company that employs more than 80 people. He came to the U.S. legally from Brazil at the age of 12 on his parents’ business visa but when he was about to graduate from high school, they could not renew their visas. As of the time of the Boston Globe article they were still in court trying to resolve their status. He was able to obtain a community college degree and transfer to U.C. Berkeley (my son’s alma mater and an extremely competitive University!). Thanks to DACA Victor was able to intern with tech companies, get a job as a business analyst at Google and go on to start his own companies. According to New American Economy research, there are at least 43,000 DACA-eligible entrepreneurs in the U.S. He explains that if DACA goes away he could relocate his company to Brazil but his 80 plus Boston-based employees would have to choose between unemployment and relocation to Brazil if they could get status there. In addition to creating employment, both he and his companies pay substantial taxes, support other businesses, and support the communities where they have settled.

In addition to being entrepreneurs and job creators, DACA recipients are teachers, essential workers, doctors, and medical students. They have been vital in protecting all of us during the pandemic. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and USCIS, the Center for American Progress analyzed the numbers and determined that in 2020, nearly 203,000 DACA recipients were working in occupations at the forefront of the COVID-19 response in health care, education, and food services. We still need these people – there are teacher shortages everywhere, shortages of those providing health care, and businesses shortening their hours because they cannot find enough people to work.

DACA was never a permanent fix. Those with DACA are not subjected to removal procedures and may go to school and obtain work permission but this has never been a path to legalization. It allows them to remain in the U.S. for two years, but this must be renewed every two years with a filing fee of $ 495.

During the 10 years of DACA, many young dreamers have graduated college, found better-paying jobs, married, built credit, bought houses, and had children but they need permanent legal status.

President Biden has done as much as he can. It is up to Congress now to let the dreamers achieve their goal of legal status and then U.S. Citizenship. We need them and they deserve this.

Linda M Kaplan
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