Tuesday, June 15, marks the ninth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows young undocumented immigrants to work legally and live free from the fear of deportation. Undocumented youth won the program by pressuring the Obama administration, and for nearly a decade, they have protected it from anti-immigrant attacks. When the previous administration tried to kill the program, they fought back and won. Their power is undeniable.
But while DACA survived at the Supreme Court and is now fully reopen to new applications and renewals, it remains under threat due to an anti-immigrant judge in Texas, who may issue a decision on the program any day now. While undocumented youth and their allies are commemorating their win, they are also marking this anniversary by pushing leaders to act on permanent relief. “Democrats cannot allow Republicans to keep progress from happening this year,” United We Dream (UWD) executive director Greisa Martinez Rosas said. “Democrats can and must lead on their own through the reconciliation process.”
Undocumented youth and their allies are holding a series of events in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to mark DACA’s anniversary and push leaders to act now on a pathway to citizenship. Later Tuesday, DACA recipients will gather for a roundtable with Vice President Kamala Harris, USA Today reports. That meeting comes roughly a month after DACA recipients met with President Joe Biden at the White House to share their stories. UWD said in a statement that undocumented youth plan to rally outside the White House to continue pressing for relief.
Under the leadership of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Dream and Promise Act is also getting a historic hearing in the Senate after passing the House in March. The bill, which also covers Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders, stands to affect at least three million immigrants. “On the 9th anniversary of #DACA and 20 years after @SenatorDurbin introduced the original Dream Act, Chair Durbin holds the second-ever hearing on protections for Dreamers & TPS holders,” the Senate Judiciary Committee tweeted. “These Americans are counting on Congress to #LetThemDream.”
Findings released by the Center for American Progress and the University of California, Davis’s Global Migration Center this week said that passing the Dream and Promise Act would provide a massive boost to the nation’s economy, increasing U.S. GDP “by a cumulative total of $799 billion over 10 years and create 285,400 new jobs.” What can’t be calculated is the relief that a pathway to citizenship stands to bring to undocumented youth and their families, who continue to have to live their daily lives from court decision to court decision.
While the fight for permanent protections continues ramping up, undocumented youth also reflected on the relief that DACA has given them. “As soon as I heard that we could apply for DACA again, I jumped into the opportunity,” Melina Batista told Mother Jones. She applied for the first time in December. “Personally, it changes everything for me, because DACA is literally what I stand on. It’s the only way that I can get a job and pursue my dreams of becoming a lawyer. I can get a car, and help my family move around. It’s basically a lifesaver. It takes away all that anxiety and the emotional wreckage that comes with not having the temporary security that I have now.”
But at the same time, the volatile status of the program is emotionally draining for many other immigrants. “We’re tired of having just a little piece of hope: You’re going to get protected, but only for this amount of time,” DACA applicant Karla Mercado Dorado told Mother Jones. “Every two years, we have to keep justifying our right to live normally the way we’ve been living this entire time. We have our own lives and our own stories and families and things that we want to accomplish. We’re really just trying to make a living and be happy like everyone else.”
While it’s undeniable that DACA has provided hundreds of thousands of young people with important protections, the past few years have shown us all how fleeting those protections can be. Immigrant communities need permanent relief. DACA applicant Dylan Ruiz told Mother Jones that “DACA is not the end all be all, it’s the beginning. We say that DACA is the floor, not the ceiling. Citizenship is the ultimate goal. We know it’s not something that can be handed to us. We’re more than willing to work hard for it.”
“After experiencing first-hand the continued threat of being targeted and deported by ICE and CBP, immigrant youth took action alongside our allies to fight for and win DACA during the Obama administration,” Martinez Rosas said. “Since then, we have fought to protect our communities against Republicans' cruel and vindictive attacks to put millions of our loved ones on the path to deportation.” With Republicans continuing to hold progressive immigration legislation hostage, the organization is calling on Democrats in Congress to go at it alone to deliver permanent relief to immigrant communities.
“Over the last twenty years, Dream Act measures have received the support of bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate—only to be blocked by the filibuster,” California Sen. Alex Padilla tweeted. “We need to pass protections for Dreamers & TPS recipients now.”