|February protest in Seattle. Photo: Ted S. Warren AP|
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is very much in the news this week. President Trump is expected to make an announcement about the program on September 5. Nine rightwing state attorney generals are planning to proceed with a lawsuit against DACA on the same day (a tenth attorney general, Tennessee’s Herbert Slatery III, pulled out of the suit on September 1). Meanwhile, Republican politicians are pushing Trump not to end the popular program. And DACA beneficiaries and their supporters have already started protesting any effort to cut the program back. But what is DACA? How did it come about? And why are DACA recipients called “Dreamers”?
Here's what we say in The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers, second edition, Chapter 10, “Is ‘Deferred Action’ an amnesty program?” (Note: the last official number we had for DACA recipients was 665,000 in 2015, but the figure has reportedly grown to nearly 800,000 now.)
In June 2012 President Barack Obama issued an executive order granting “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) to undocumented young people who arrived in the United States before their sixteenth birthdays. The move came after a decade of unsuccessful campaigning for the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which would have provided undocumented youth with a path to citizenship. DACA provides no such path, but allows beneficiaries to avoid deportation and obtain a work permit for a renewable two-year period. The applicant must have been under the age of thirty-one on June 15, 2012; have lived here continuously since at least June 15, 2007; and be in school, have graduated high school, or have served in the military. […]
According to various estimates, some 1.2 million people were eligible for the original DACA program, although as of March 31, 2015, only 665,000 people had their petitions approved. […]
[Executive orders like DACA] would benefit millions of people, but they wouldn’t be amnesties. An actual amnesty would be permanent and would have to be authorized by Congress. Deferred action is simply a directive from the president for immigration officials to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” by not deporting certain people. This is a long-established practice in both criminal and immigration law where the government chooses not to proceed with a case, often because of attenuating circumstances. The president can decide to extend the policies after the three-year limit, but can also simply end them, putting the beneficiaries back in an “illegal” state, where they are subject to arrest, detention, and deportation.