One of the biggest problems with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is right there in its name; deferred action is not a permanent solution. The DACA program was created by Obama in 2012 as an executive order, after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act continued to fail to pass Congress. Because of DACA’s association with the DREAM Act those who are eligible for it are often referred to as Dreamers.
DACA offers some temporary protection from deportation to people who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children and meet a series of other requirements, which essentially confirms they have not willingly committed any crime and do not know any home other than the U.S. The program grants recipients deferred action for a period of two years after which point it can be renewed. It allows recipients to work, but does not provide any lawful status or long term resolution for the hundreds of thousands people who are eligible. The DREAM Act has been introduced several more times since DACA was created, most recently in 2017, but has even less chance of becoming law now than it did when it was initially introduced in 2001.
In September 2017 the Trump administration announced the end of DACA, with the final applications set to be accepted that October. There was a good deal of public outcry and several states filed lawsuits to continue to program. Democratic lawmakers insisted on protection for DACA recipients as a requirement for any future immigration policy, including funding for Trumps proposed border wall. DACA also became linked to other legislative issues and partisan disagreement over the future of the program was a contributing factor in the government shutdown at the end of last year. In January of this year a Judge granted an injunction requiring that DACA renewals continue to be accepted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but they are not taking any new applications for DACA from those who are not already recipients.
In Washington immigration policy debate as a whole, and the DACA issue in particular have reached a critical point this week since this is one of the last opportunities the House will have to reach a deal with enough time for it to go to the Senate and the President before the 2018 midterm elections. The House is currently discussing at least two and possibly as many as four different bills that include provisions on DACA recipients. The key to finding one that will actually pass will most likely lie in drafting language that satisfies enough moderates from both sides of the isle to override those on the extreme right and the extreme left.
Some of the possible provisions include creating a class of Visa that would include those currently eligible for DACA as well as some others, and linking the future status of Dreamers to funding for the border wall. The bill will also probably include language limiting family sponsorship for immigration and a range of other changes. There are also other issues that could derail the bill such as a requirement for employers to electronically verify the immigration status of employees.
Negotiations are ongoing, so it’s still up in the air what, if anything will come out of the House. And even if something does get passed there it will still have to make it through the Senate and across Trump’s desk. As chaotic, problematic, and tenuous as the current situation is, it’s still the closest that the Federal Government has come to granting permanent lawful status to DACA recipients.
The difficulty reaching a reasonable compromise on DACA underscores the complexity of the immigration issue as a whole. DACA is just one, relatively small piece of the immigration puzzle, and deals with a clearly defined population that most people would agree have not intentionally broken or ignored the laws of the U.S. Yet it’s still very difficult to create a program that can work in the long term that doesn’t penalize people unjustifiably, and also doesn’t encourage people to abuse the system disregard the fact that the U.S. is a sovereign nation with borders. But if lawmakers can resist the urge to continue to kick the can down the road on DACA then maybe there is chance at making some real progress on immigration reform as a whole.