The ever-controversial debate on immigration has re-emerged in the United States, this time in the face of a danger that threatens some seven hundred thousand undocumented young people who were brought to this country during their childhood.
Martha Andrés Román
Washington. On the 5th of September, President Donald Trump decided to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, was responsible for announcing the controversial measure during an address where he described the policy implemented by the Barack Obama administration (2009-2017) as unconstitutional.
Such a mechanism allows those who came when they were children to remain here and obtain work permits (renewable every two years if they meet certain requirements) and therefore protects the so-called “dreamers” from deportation.
Officials of the Department of Homeland Security specified that from that day they would not accept new requests and that current beneficiaries would be able to continue working until the expiration date of their authorization. Furthermore, those dreamers holding a permit from the DACA that expires before the 5th March 2018 will be able to apply for a renewal of two years until the 5th October.
The elimination of the program will be delayed for six months; therefore the Congress will have this period to look for an alternative to the situation of these people, who would otherwise be at risk of being deported.
Beneficiaries of the DACA
DACA has benefitted in total 787,580 undocumented young people, according to the latest data from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published last March.
In order to gain access to this initiative, the applicants must have been between 15 and 31 years-of-age in 2012, prove that they arrived to the United States when they were under the age of 16, have lived there continuously since 2007, be enrolled in secondary or tertiary studies and not have a criminal record. Although it did not signify a path towards citizenship, those accepted under this policy could obtain work authorization and, in many states, a driver’s licence, attend university or join the army without the threat of deportation.
The recipients arrived primarily from Mexico (more than 618,000 people), with a smaller percentage coming from Central and South American countries. Even though they can be found in all of the states of the country, the highest number reside in California, Texas and New York.
According to data collected in an online survey cited by the Los Angeles Times, the vast majority of those benefiting from DACA have studied and have jobs.
This study found that 91.4% of those were employed and 44.9% were enrolled in some kind of study, contradicting the image outlined by Trump, according to the newspaper.
Through a statement about his decision to put an end to DACA, the President said that the program helped to stimulate a massive surge of unaccompanied minors, including, in some cases, young people who would become members of violent gangs throughout our country, such as MS-13.
Criticism and protest
As was to be expected from such a controversial topic and the expressions of support for these young people from before the announcement, numerous voices have risen up against the decision, at the same time that many receivers of the mechanism, relatives and people of solidarity went out on the streets to protest.
“With DACA or without DACA, we are immigrants. We have fought a lot in the United States, and we are going to keep doing so in order to improve our lives”, stated Norberto López to Prensa Latina, a Mexican who at 23 years-of-age lives in California and arrived to this country when he was only one year old.
He was part of a group of hundreds of people who mobilised in front of the White House and chanted slogans such as “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos” (“Here we are and we’re not leaving”), “No somos unos, no somos cientos, somos millones, cuéntelos bien” (“We are not some, we are not hundreds, we are millions, count them well”), and “DACA Sí, Trump No” (“DACA Yes, Trump No”).
In the opinion of the Ecuadorian Luis Yumbla, who has lived in New York for more than two decades, it is necessary to defend this program because the beneficiaries are studious and hard-working people who help their families. “Our children”, he added, “have settled in to the United States culture, they love this country, they respect its values and they contribute to the local economy”.
“The decision about DACA tears families apart and says to the people who have worked hard for years to become United States citizens that they have to leave the country”, expressed Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, in a statement.
The Republican governors of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, and Nevada, Brian Sandoval, considered that Trump took a wrong turn, and recognised the contribution of the young people to their communities.
One day after the announcement, 11 states and the District of Columbia presented a lawsuit against the elimination of the initiative, led by the attorney generals of Washington, Bob Ferguson, New York, Eric Schneiderman, and Massachusetts, Maura Healey.
However, legal experts consider that an action of this sort will be very difficult and the only possible path for the ‘dreamers’ seems to be the capacity for consensus achieved by a Congress that has been too divided until now.
According to The Washington Post, it’s certainly possible that the legislation manages to, by a narrow margin, pass a measure that gives legal protection to these people.
The Post mentioned the differences in criteria on immigration between parties and also on the inner edge of the Republican ranks. Within the red force, they explain, are some figures that emphasize business and tend to favour a comprehensive migratory reform, but social conservatives tend to oppose any proposals that allow people without papers to stay legally.
*Chief Correspondent of PL in the United States
(Translated by Sarah Claman) – Photos: Pixabay