Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit deemed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program “unlawful,” upholding a district court ruling from last year. The order will suspend grants for first-time applicants, though previous DACA recipients will continue to be protected—for now—while the case is sent back to the lower court in Texas. With this ruling, more than 600,000 Americans protected under DACA once again face unnecessary uncertainty and fear.
Passed in 2012 by President Obama, DACA is still the foremost piece of legislation protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act failed to pass. In recent years, lawmakers have proposed ways to improve and expand DACA through initiatives like the America’s Children Act, which would provide lawful permanent resident status to certain college graduates who entered the United States as children. Unfortunately, Congress has not yet voted on the act.
Nevertheless, activists continue to fight for meaningful immigration reform. Earlier this year, Athulya Rajakumar, a recent graduate of the University of Texas, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on removing barriers to legal immigration. Although born in India, Rajakumar has lived and studied in the United States since she was 4 years old as a dependent on her mother’s visa. At 21, Rajakumar’s application for green card status was denied and she was faced with the possibility of deportation. Now, Rajakumar is a member of Improve the Dream, an advocacy group for the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants that are aging out of America’s broken immigration system.
“Without congressional action that creates a clear, reliable pathway for me to apply for permanent residency, in eight months, I will be forced to leave not only the country I have called home for nearly 20 years, but also my mom, who is my only family left,” said Rajakumar in her testimony. “Members of Improve the Dream hope that one day, everyone who grows up in America will have a clear opportunity to become an American citizen, pursue their passions, and fully contribute to our country.”
During the 2020 election, Joe Biden pledged to protect DACA recipients in his first 100 days in office. “Dreamers are Americans—and it’s time we make it official.” But as we approach the 2022 midterm elections, that promise remains unfulfilled. In August, the Biden administration codified DACA as part of the federal regulatory code. But as Jacob Hamburger and Stephen Yale-Loeh explained for Slate, “the new rule fails to adopt any substantive measures to expand or strengthen the DACA program,” and might not even protect DACA from further court challenges.
In 2020, the Supreme Court overturned the Trump administration’s termination of DACA. But without congressional action, the fate of the law and undocumented youth remains will remain at risk. Recently, President Biden sought to assure the public that his administration is doing its best to fulfill its commitment to preserve and strengthen DACA. “Ten years ago, I stood by President Obama as he announced one of our proudest accomplishments—creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The program has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Dreamers by allowing them to live here and contribute their talents to this great country without fear of removal.”
The administration blames the lack of immigration reform on the GOP. “Congressional Republicans should stop blocking a bill that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.” Of course, conservatives continue to use immigrants as political props and offer destructive non-solutions to the problem, but the Democrats themselves have failed to offer proactive alternatives.
According to the Pew Research Center, almost three-quarters of Americans support legal status for immigrants brought to the United States as children. After the ruling earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union echoed the calls for congressional action. “Congress must pass legislation that would provide Dreamers and other undocumented members of our communities with permanent protections and a pathway to citizenship in the country they have always called home.”
The United States is often described as a nation of immigrants, but the lack of urgency in Congress belies this history. “It’s imperative for Congress to act and enact bipartisan change that makes our country more prosperous by allowing all young people who grow up here to stay and contribute,” said Dip Patel, founder and president of Improve the Dream. Instead, lawmakers and the courts continue to put the future of DACA protections—and the safety of the undocumented community—in jeopardy. “The Fifth Circuit court decision shows that so many DACA recipients’ lives continue to be in limbo and are in danger of losing the temporary protections they were afforded. This should create urgency in Congress to act.”