Five years ago, former president Barack Obama was seeking a way to provide assistance to the group of people dubbed the “Dreamers” and protect them from instant deportation. To do this, the Obama Administration created what is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in 2012.
The purpose of DACA was to make it possible for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children unable to make the choice themselves, obtain a work permit, credit cards and bank accounts.
The “Dreamers” acquired their name from the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act Bill, which was a bill created to give legal and permanent status to young immigrants brought to this country by their parents. It was last considered to be passed in 2010 (nilc.org).
DACA was a temporary solution for the “Dreamers.” They were granted protection and the opportunity to work if they were admitted into the program and hired in a job. Work permits are valid for two years, upon which they must be renewed.
DACA was never meant to be permanent. Obama intended to make Congress pass legislation to make permanent changes for immigration and legal status, such as the DREAM Act Bill, but nothing was successfully passed.
Early this September, President Donald Trump made the announcement that he was going to end the DACA program, which will put 800,000 immigrants at risk for deportation (CNN.com). Congress has six months to find a more permanent solution, or Trump will be shutting the program down.
“There’s a lot of fear in the Hispanic community,” Spanish professor Rick Clark said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a scary time for individuals who are immigrants, legal or illegal.”
DACA is a complex program. To be considered for the program, applicants must have no criminal record, be able to present proof they were brought to the U.S. before age 16 but be under 31 when the program was first launched in 2012, and be at least 15 years old (USCIS.gov).
They also have to be either currently enrolled in high school or college, have a diploma or be honorably discharged from the military. DACA does not allow these individuals permanent or legal residency or citizenship but accepted applicants are able to work, study and live in the U.S. so long as they renew their permit every two years and sustain good behavior.
With the decision made by Trump, the hundreds of thousands of individuals currently enrolled in DACA are seriously affected. This is having an impact even on our own campus.
“I do not know how many students at Northwestern or their family members have applied for the DACA program,” President Greg Christy said. “However, it is likely there are students at NW and family members who have been in the DACA program, as most colleges and universities have students who have received protection under DACA. Indirectly, as Christ followers, this affects us all because these persons affected are part of our communities, schools, churches and families.”
Individuals who are currently enrolled in DACA are covered and protected until their permits expire. If their permits expire before March 5, 2018, they are allowed to renew them, which will make their permits valid for another two years. If their permits expire after March 5, they are not able to renew them and risk deportation to their home countries after the expiration.
Vice President for Student Life Julie Elliot looked at the position students at NW who may be at risk for deportation are in.
“It puts our undocumented students in a very precarious place,” Elliot said. “They can run the risk of being deported to places that they don’t know and don’t have a lot of connection to. It fosters insecurity and limits what they can do.”
For now, nothing will happen until March. Congress may pass legislation, but if not, DACA will be shut down. The termination of DACA would cause thousands of individuals to be deported back to their home countries, even if they have been living in the U.S. for several decades.
The majority of NW students are not directly affected by this decision; however, students who are legal citizens are still impacted by what this decision means. Even people in this community might be at risk of leaving the country.
This is an uncertain time in the U.S., especially for the people living in it.
Clark has some advice for how to handle this time of unrest and how to treat the “Dreamers.”
“We just have to treat everybody how we would treat anybody else,” Clark said. “Rather than say this person is different, their skin color is different, they’re illegal or not, we shouldn’t even go there. Our responsibility is to fulfill Christ’s mandate to ‘love them as we love ourselves’ and not look at skin color or legal status.”