DACA only guaranteed a case-by-case discretion for the children, which was not novel and had existed in the form of guidelines. Is the brouhaha that has followed its repeal over amplified and what happens to the children whose fate hangs in the balance
Since 2012, when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was enforced by former US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, at least 1,541,960 out of the 1.8 million requests have been accepted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Out of the total submissions, till now, only 799,071 have been approved . In the past fiver years, the number of people who have requested for DACA accounts for just 0.4 percent of the total population of North America. This can be a worrying trend for more conservative parts of the American society that United States President Donald Trump has come to represent.
On September 5, the US President and the White House had decided to rescind the program. The Trump administration had said in a statement, “I do not favour punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognise that we are a nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.” While striking down DACA, he said that it is now in the hands of the Congress to produce legislation to safeguard the lives of the children who were brought to the US.
Trump said former President Barack Obama bypassed the Congress to set up the DACA program in 2012, adding, “There can be no path to principled immigration reform if the executive branch is able to rewrite or nullify federal laws at will.” Former United States President Barack Obama said that the decision to do away with the law was ‘cruel’, ‘self-defeating’ and ‘wrong’. “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,” Obama wrote.
What is DACA?
This programme allows illegal immigrants brought to the US as children to reside, albeit temporarily, in the country. Those eligible for it have to be either younger than 16 in 2007, and below 31 years in 2012. The application costs $456 and more if an attorney makes the application or it is done online by the applicants themselves. The permit has to be renewed every two years. The candidates are vetted by the Department of Home Security (DHS), their biometric data collected and verified by the FBI.
DACA is being misrepresented as the ‘DREAM’ers act (Development, Relief, Educations for Aliens Minors Act) — a legislation which would have guaranteed permanent and legal residential status to illegal immigrants brought to the US as children. However, DACA is very different. The inability of the Congress to pass the act pushed the executive to bring about the programme. However, the programme is not what it is being made out to be. It only defers deportation, but it can defer immigration benefits to the applicant as well. The brouhaha that the repeal has witnessed has been over amplified. The programme only guaranteed a case-by-case discretion for the children, which was not novel and had existed in the form of guidelines.
The DACA programme was never designed to give legal status or amnesty. “It is not a path to the military, to citizenship and to a green card,” wrote Christina Fiflis in her article in the journal Immigration. There are a total of 1.8 million youth and the bulk of them reside in California or Texas and are largely from Mexico. There are only 6,675 Indians who have put in requests, 5,584 have been approved and 800 are pending approval. Deportation might not be a reality to these people as the people on the DACA list are extremely ‘low’ priority immigration. All of them are vetted by the FBI for criminal records. According to Fiflis, the programme could be revoked as it was promulgated.
The background politics
The issue garnered attention when attorney generals from 10 states led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton demanded the termination of DACA. However, reports in the major daily newspapers and other publications suggest a shift in the power in the White House.
While former chief strategist Steve Bannon and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were, much like Trump, in favour of keeping the programme. It was, according to reports, Bannon’s plan to keep the act in place to build up a vote-bank for their government. However, their exit has put Jeff Sessions, who vehemently opposes liberal immigration policies, in charge of the programme.
The American Parliament is now left to debate and pass a bill that ensures the safety and security of these children. Many versions of the DREAMers act have been put forward by Democrat Senators and other versions of what is called the ‘American Hope Act’ by Republicans, but now the future of children lies in the balance and the only thing that can save them is unity across the political spectrum.