DACA: Far From Immigration Reform, but not to be Ignored

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which took effect on Aug. 15, 2012, continues to be implemented while Congress mulls over immigration reform. As stated in the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidelines, the initiative offers two years of protection from deportation along with work authorization for unauthorized youth, who are eligible if they “are between the ages of 15 and 30 (as of June 15, 2012); entered the United States before the age of 16; were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012; have lived in the United States continuously for at least five years; are currently in school, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or are honorably discharged veterans of the US armed forces or Coast Guard; and have not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor; and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security.”

Although DACA offers merely a glimpse of true integration, applying is undoubtedly beneficial for those eligible. The most notable reason revolves around the conceivable passing of a new immigration law in the near future. As the most recent bill on the house table indicates, legalization will most likely be expedited for DACA recipients. However, regardless of whether this proposal is soon passed, DACA offers other significant and immediate benefits.

Beyond protection from deportation, the program not only provides increased economic opportunities, but also social incorporation for young adult immigrants. As stated in the preliminary findings from the National UnDACAmented Research Project, “approximately 61% of DACA recipients surveyed have obtained a new job since receiving DACA.  Meanwhile, over half have opened their first bank account, and 38% have obtained their first credit card. Additionally, 61% have obtained a driver’s license.” In more liberal states such as California, financial aid for university students is also being offered through AB540 and the California Dream Act.

One primary concern with DACA is whether submitting an application will make those applying a target for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and put their immediate family in danger. DACA recipients are among the lowest priority cases for deportation. As affirmed by E4FC (Educators for Fair Consideration) in “Ten Reasons to Consider Applying for DACA Now,” those who maintain their eligibility will be among the safest from ICE even if there is a change in administration.

However, applicants should still seek prior legal counsel, which is not as difficult as one might think. UC Davis’ King Hall Immigration Law Clinic and other organizations around the country are offering low-cost assistance and workshops.

Register for a free DACA Workshop on October 26, 2013 by calling the DACA Hotline at (530) 752-8045. Also, the E4FC  offers a free intake service online at E4FC.org, which helps those interested in applying better understand their potential eligibility.

Another great resource to consider is the free smartphone app called “Pocket DACA.” It’s a self-screening tool that can also provide useful referrals to nearby legal service providers.

Nonetheless, immigration fraud is prevalent so be wary. “Notarios,” for example, take advantage of the duplicitous meaning of the title in Spanish to fool unsuspecting immigrants into thinking they offer real legal assistance.

Despite the relative safety in applying, DACA yields other notable concerns and frustrations. The exclusion from health care under the Affordable Healthcare Act practically contradicts DACA’s main intentions and the application fee of $465 is exorbitant. Fortunately, certain states are finding ways around flaws in the legislation. In California, for example, DACA recipients can apply for emergency state-funded Medi-Cal. As for the fee, many organizations have lending circles specifically for DREAMers and the USCIS (the department in charge of approving DACA requests) offers fee exemptions in particular cases. E4FC offers more information on loans and fee exemption on their website.

Although DACA reflects the frustrating yet seemingly inevitable status of immigration reform, the prospect of immediately helping young immigrants in need and pressuring Congress into passing legislation long overdue still makes it significant. As only about half of those estimated to be eligible have applied, there are still not enough applicants. DACA may be far from real immigration reform, but it is not to be ignored. For the DREAMer movement and countless other student immigrant movements around the country, spreading the word on DACA is an integral first step in pushing for more significant immigration reform and helping deserving immigrants achieve the American dream.

Joe Epstein, DACA intern, is a recent UC Davis graduate in international relations and Spanish, and can be reached at jnepstein@ucdavis.edu.

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