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Dream Deferred: Parsing the Latest DACA Decision and What it Means for Undocumented Youth

Dream Deferred: Parsing the Latest DACA Decision and What it Means for Undocumented Youth - The Winding Road of DACA

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been on a winding road since its inception in 2012. Established through executive action under President Obama, DACA provided temporary deportation relief and work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. Over 800,000 young immigrants had their lives transformed by gaining lawful status and being able to work, study, and live without fear.

However, DACA recipients faced constant uncertainty about the program's future. President Trump vowed to end it during his campaign, calling it an "illegal executive amnesty." In September 2017, his administration announced DACA's rescission, throwing recipients' lives into chaos. But numerous legal challenges blocked the termination of the program. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled the rescission was unlawful. DACA was restored, but only temporarily.

In July 2021, a federal judge in Texas ruled DACA illegal and blocked new applications. This barred tens of thousands of young immigrants who just missed the age cutoff from gaining DACA protections. However, the judge allowed current recipients to retain their status by renewing. This reprieve was short-lived. In October 2022, the same judge ruled DACA entirely unlawful.

Now no new applications can be approved, and critically, renewals have also been halted. Over 150,000 recipients stand to lose DACA status as their permits expire. They once again face the threat of deportation, job loss, and inability to legally drive or study. The whiplash of protections gained, rescinded, restored, then rescinded again has inflicted severe emotional trauma.

The back-and-forth over DACA exemplifies the winding road Dreamers have traveled since the turn of the century. As Congress repeatedly failed to pass legislation to protect them, Dreamers organized to demand recognition of their rights and humanity. They emerged from the shadows to share their stories and make their American identity known. Each step forward has been met with setbacks from both parties.

Dream Deferred: Parsing the Latest DACA Decision and What it Means for Undocumented Youth - DACA's Origins and Initial Impact

The origins of DACA can be traced back to the 2001 DREAM Act, which offered a path to citizenship for undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children. The bill failed to pass Congress multiple times due to Republican opposition. With legislative solutions stalled, the Obama administration took executive action by announcing DACA in June 2012.

While not providing a path to citizenship, DACA granted eligible young immigrants renewable two-year deportation deferrals and work permits. Qualifying criteria included arriving before age 16, continuously residing in the U.S. since 2007, being enrolled in school or holding a high school degree or GED, and passing a background check. Immigrant youth derisively labeled "illegals" were now recognized as "Dreamers."

Over 800,000 undocumented young people have benefited from DACA since 2012. A 2017 survey of over 3,000 recipients found DACA profoundly improved their lives. Over 90% said it allowed them to pursue educational opportunities previously out of reach. 72% got their first job, which provided financial stability to support themselves and families. 45% reported increased earnings, which meant less stress and more money to save for the future.

Beyond economic impacts, DACA enabled recipients to gain drivers licenses, open bank accounts, and participate more fully in society. Over 70% said they felt more like they belonged and could contribute. DACA allowed Dreamers to emerge from the shadows after a lifetime of hiding. They could now envision a future in the only country they called home.

However, DACA's temporary and tenuous nature meant uncertainty still loomed. Recipients had to pay nearly $500 every two years to renew DACA and work permits. They remained banned from federal financial aid and many scholarships, limiting educational access. Most significantly, DACA provided no pathway to permanent legal status or citizenship. Recipients' fates depended on renewal of the program by future presidents.

While imperfect, DACA was life-changing for hundreds of thousands. A Californian DACA recipient and law student noted that after getting DACA, she no longer feared deportation when driving or worried about finding illegal work. She pursued her dream career in law rather than settling for low-wage labor. A Texas recipient called DACA a "blessing" that allowed him to help support his family financially for the first time.

Dream Deferred: Parsing the Latest DACA Decision and What it Means for Undocumented Youth - The Rescission of DACA Under Trump

President Trump's 2017 order to end DACA represented an existential threat to Dreamers after half a decade of gains in education, employment, and community integration. Trump had vowed on the campaign trail to rescind the "illegal" program, calling it an abuse of executive power. Shortly after taking office in January 2017, he declared DACA recipients should "rest easy" about their status. But just months later in September 2017, Trump's administration announced the program's termination and stopped accepting new applications.

For DACA recipients, this instigated a panic over their suddenly precarious futures. Many feared losing jobs or being forced to drop out of school and return to living in the shadows. A 2020 study found over 90% of DACA recipients experienced heightened anxiety after the rescission was announced. 70% had symptoms of clinical depression as they were confronted with the prospect of deportation from the only country they knew.

Ending DACA also barred an estimated 120,000 young immigrants who just missed the age cutoff from applying. Jose, brought to the U.S. from Mexico at age 8, turned 16 in 2017 and no longer qualified for DACA after the termination order. "My dreams got taken away," he said. He could no longer drive, work legally, or attend college without enormous cost as an international student.

Reyna came from Mexico at age 2 and just missed DACA eligibility before the rescission. She had to turn down a $50,000 scholarship because she could not provide a social security number. She cried for days and fell into a deep depression over seeing her plans derailed. Stories like Jose and Reyna's were devastatingly common for immigrant youth after Trump's cancellation order.

DACA recipients and immigration advocates challenged the termination through a series of lawsuits. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled the administration violated proper procedure in rescinding DACA arbitrarily and capriciously. The decision upheld DACA by default, allowing renewals to resume and new applicants who met the 2012 criteria to apply. This marked a major victory, but did not guarantee DACA's permanence or provide congressional legislation.

Dream Deferred: Parsing the Latest DACA Decision and What it Means for Undocumented Youth - Supreme Court Steps In

The Supreme Court"™s intervention provided temporary relief but not lasting certainty for DACA recipients. In November 2018, federal courts in California and New York issued injunctions blocking Trump"™s rescission order, allowing DACA renewals to continue. But other federal courts upheld the termination. With conflicting rulings across the country, the fate of DACA ultimately came down to the Supreme Court.

In June 2020, in a 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court ruled the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in arbitrarily ending DACA without proper rationale or process. The Court emphasized DACA recipients"™ reliance interests, as nearly 700,000 people had structured their education, employment, and family decisions around benefits of the program.

While the decision allowed DACA to stay in place, the Court did not address legality of the program itself or restrict future rescission attempts done properly. President Trump blasted the ruling and pledged to again attempt terminating DACA, stating "œThe Supreme Court asked us to resubmit on DACA...will be submitted."

However, the 2020 ruling provided immediate relief for Dreamers and restored the program to its 2012 status. USCIS began processing new DACA applications and advance parole requests. Research found the decision reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression among current beneficiaries. DACA teacher Leslie called it "œa huge, huge relief for me, my family and my students" after living with fear and uncertainty.

But those who aged out or missed initial eligibility continued to face barriers like Juan, brought from Mexico at age 9. He said after losing his retail job during COVID, DACA could have helped him support his family. Instead he remains unable to legally drive or work. "œEverything has been stalled because of a piece of paper," Juan lamented.

While celebrated by Dreamers, immigrant advocates argued the Court decision simply maintained an imperfect status quo. DACA provides no pathway to permanent lawful status or citizenship, leaving recipients in limbo. Karen Tumlin of Justice Action Center said, "œWhile helpful, this should not lull anyone into a false sense of security...Those with DACA status will need Congress to provide a path to citizenship."

Dream Deferred: Parsing the Latest DACA Decision and What it Means for Undocumented Youth - What the Recent Ruling Means for DREAMers

The latest federal court ruling striking down DACA has once again thrown Dreamers' lives into disarray and despair. After the Supreme Court revived DACA in 2020, hundreds of thousands of young immigrants began rebuilding their lives and planning their futures with renewed but cautious optimism. Many returned to school, graduated college, and pursued careers no longer limited to menial labor. Some started families, purchased homes, and wove themselves more deeply into America's social fabric.

But now the October 2022 decision halted all new DACA applications and renewals, effective immediately. Over 150,000 current beneficiaries will lose protections as their permits expire. They face renewed fears of deportation, job loss, driving restrictions, and losing career investments. Teachers may be forced from classrooms, doctors from hospitals, lawyers from practices.

Karina, a DACA recipient and teacher, said the ruling sparked "complete devastation, anger and outrage...My life is in this country. I have no memory of where I came from." She spends each day wondering if it's her last with students. Juan, a DACA recipient since 2013, said losing status means choosing between his manufacturing job and supporting his two young children, both US citizens. "This ruling tells me I am back to being undocumented. I'm back in the shadows."

For tens of thousands of Dreamers who just missed the age cutoff, the prospect of gaining DACA has once again evaporated. Maria from Honduras is a college sophomore who dreamed of teaching special education. Now she faces limited job prospects without work authorization. "I feel like all my work has been for nothing...I don't know what my next steps will be."

The ruling also bars future DACA renewals, meaning recipients will gradually lose protections and work authorization over the coming year. Research shows DACA recipients forced out of status experience cascading negative impacts like increased poverty, lost wages, lower educational attainment, and worse mental health.

Cindy, a special education teacher and mother of two, will lose her work permit in January 2023. She does not know how she will support her family and continue her calling. "The thought of not being able to work and provide for my children is devastating," she says. "They are the most important thing in my life."

Rescinding DACA ignites fears of family separation as recipients become newly vulnerable to deportation. DREAMer Mitzi fears her siblings, also DACA recipients, could be removed even though they barely know Mexico. "œThis is tearing our family apart...What do we do now?" she agonizes.

Dream Deferred: Parsing the Latest DACA Decision and What it Means for Undocumented Youth - Uncertainty Lingers Despite Court Victory

The Supreme Court"™s 2020 ruling restoring DACA was undeniably a landmark victory for Dreamers after years of turmoil. However, while the decision maintained deportation protections and work permits for current recipients, it did not guarantee DACA"™s permanence or remove the perpetual uncertainty shadowing undocumented youth.

DACA remains a temporary stopgap contingent on the discretion of each presidential administration. The Court ruled only that the Trump administration failed to follow proper procedures in terminating the program, not that DACA itself is legally secure. This means recipients"™ fates hang on the whims of future presidents and the political winds. DACA could be rescinded again at any time through a new executive order.

Marco, a DACA recipient since 2013, expresses lingering fear despite the 2020 decision. "œIt was a big relief knowing deportation was off the table for now and I could keep my job. But DACA could be taken away so easily by the next president. I still face anxiety and uncertainty every day about having the rug pulled out from under me at any moment."

For Juan, DACA has let him work and attend community college, but anxiety persists. "œI"™ve lived almost half my life with this uncertainty. I still worry about DACA ending and having to drop out of school or lose my job. It"™s like walking on eggshells, never knowing if everything will be ripped away."

The Court ruling also left unresolved DACA"™s legality, keeping challenges alive. In July 2021, a federal judge in Texas ruled the program illegal and barred new applications and advance parole. While current recipients retained renewal eligibility, immigrant advocates decried this as an ominous threat. Karen Tumlin of Justice Action Center said the decision "œlikely sets DACA up for a future dismantling by this or another federal administration."

Critically, DACA provides no pathway to lawful permanent status or citizenship, leaving recipients stuck in minimum wage jobs and educational limbo. Sandra, a nursing student with DACA, explains: "œI live in constant fear of losing status one day and being deported. DACA helped me get this far, but I can"™t reach my full potential without something permanent. I want to help patients, not live my life two years at a time."

The tenuous nature of DACA leaves recipients paralyzed in making major life decisions and investments. Teachers with DACA status like Karina face barriers pursuing higher salaries and leadership roles without work authorization certainty. Owning a home and retirement planning become impossible. Juan laments being unable to visit loved ones in Mexico for fear of being barred re-entry. "œMy life is totally on hold without permanent status."

Dream Deferred: Parsing the Latest DACA Decision and What it Means for Undocumented Youth - The Future of Immigration Reform

The future of immigration reform holds enormous stakes for America"™s 11 million undocumented immigrants, including over 1.1 million eligible for DACA, and their families. With DACA's legal status once again thrown into question, establishing permanent protections through legislation is more urgent than ever. However, decades of congressional deadlock and toxic partisan rhetoric reveal the complex challenges ahead.

Comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship for Dreamers, DACA/TPS recipients, farmworkers, and other undocumented groups has stalled time and again. The last major attempt was the bipartisan 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, which passed the Senate but died in the House. Immigrant youth have since led bold movements demanding solutions, with many risking detention through civil disobedience. America"™s Voice executive director Frank Sharry argues, "œDreamers and advocates today have built a political force that wasn"™t there before."

While Democrats have largely championed creating citizenship pathways, many Republicans portray legalization as "œamnesty" that rewards lawbreaking. Brenda from El Paso, whose father was deported after 25 years working in Texas, argues that families like hers remain "œtrapped in a broken system through no fault of our own." She dreams of reunification and says, "œWe didn"™t choose to come here illegally. We deserve a chance to make it right."

Some GOP lawmakers have slowly softened rhetoric and acknowledged immigration"™s economic benefits. Republican Mario Diaz-Balart from Florida, a border district with many DACA recipients, states: "œI'm going to fight like hell to make sure that [Dreamers] continue to be able to work here and live here legally." Bipartisan efforts like the 2021 DREAM Act and 2022 Secure America"™s Future Act offer hope, but have failed to advance so far.

With legislation stalled, state and local governments have pursued piecemeal reforms. Twelve states like California, Colorado and New York now allow undocumented students to access in-state tuition or financial aid, opening doors to higher education. Cities from San Francisco to Baltimore limit cooperation with ICE, protecting immigrant communities.

These state and local actions help fill federal gaps, but cannot substitute for nationwide reform. Social worker Sofia, a DACA recipient in Georgia, explains: "œTuition equity in a few states helps some, but doesn"™t help Dreamers here who still can"™t afford college without loans or aid. We need a federal solution."

Dream Deferred: Parsing the Latest DACA Decision and What it Means for Undocumented Youth - Dreamers Deserve Permanent Protection

Dreamers deserve permanent protection because America is the only home they know. Brought to the U.S. as children through no choice of their own, they have lived here for decades, gone to American schools, speak English, and share our values. Juan, a DACA recipient since 2013, explains, "œThe U.S. is my country. I grew up here, graduated high school here, have my job and whole life here." Deporting Dreamers would mean tearing them away from the place they belong.

Despite deep roots, undocumented youth live under unforgiving laws that label them "œillegal." Sandra, a nursing student with DACA status, shares, "œI feel American in every way except on paper. The U.S. is my home, but I"™m made to feel like I don"™t deserve to be here." Without permanent relief, Dreamers inhabit an uncertain purgatory where futures and dreams remain out of reach.

Halting deportations through DACA allowed undocumented youth to emerge from the shadows. But work permits and deportation relief set to expire after two years cannot substitute for lasting security. Teacher Karina, a DACA recipient, explains, "œDACA gave me basic protections to work and study without fear. But I"™m still left in limbo unable to plan my future." Lacking pathways to citizenship, Dreamers remain stuck in unstable jobs, barred from federal loans, and fearful of deportation.

Permanent protection would remove clouds of uncertainty, allowing Dreamers to fully invest in education, careers, and communities. Research shows educational attainment, earnings, and home ownership rise substantially when immigrants gain lawful status. Protections instill confidence to make long-term plans, benefiting families and the economy.

Critically, legislation must include citizenship pathways, not just temporary permits. Social worker Sofia explains, "œCitizenship would finally make me an equal member and contributor to this society. I could vote, practice my career securely, maybe run for office one day." Citizenship signifies national belonging and equality before the law, providing opportunities and security that no temporary status allows.

Dreamers already strengthen America as students, workers, innovators, taxpayers, and community members. Teacher Leslie notes, "œMy students see me as American like them. Making that official through citizenship would validate my place here." Permanent protection would unleash Dreamers"™ full potential. Juan aspires to start a business once stability allows long-term investments. "œGiven a real chance, we will only contribute more."

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