President Donald Trump is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and unless Congress passes legislation before March 2018, nearly 800,000 undocumented young people could be at risk of deportation.
The administration’s announcement Tuesday does not come as a shock. Trump often bashed the program throughout his campaign, although he seemed to soften that stance slightly once in office.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the administration will delay the death of the program until March, giving Congress the opportunity to pass legislation protecting eligible immigrants. But that has been a historically difficult task for the legislature, and it remains to be seen whether there can be a bipartisan solution.
What is DACA?
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA, was established by President Obama in 2012, after the repeated failure of the DREAM Act, which would have created a path to citizenship for undocumented childhood arrivals, also known as DREAMers.
DACA was designed to protect undocumented immigrants that came to the country before the age of 16, although the average age of arrival for DREAMers is six years old.
In order to receive DACA status, immigrants must prove that they arrived under the age of 16 before 2007. They must be enrolled in high school, have received a high school diploma or GED, or be an honorably discharged veteran. A spotless criminal record is also required.
Under those guidelines, about 1.3 million people qualify for DACA, although there are only about 800,000 recipients nationwide.
DACA in Michigan
There are about 6,400 DACA recipients in Michigan, and around 15,000 total that are eligible for the program.
Governor Rick Snyder has voiced his support for the program, and condemned the president’s decision in a statement Tuesday:
"We are the best Michigan when we are a diverse Michigan – one that is made up of people whose stories and journeys are not identical. One path to success and prosperity looks different than the next, which should be celebrated and encouraged. Many are working toward success under the existing DACA, and for the certainty of their future Congress should act quickly to authorize and clarify their status.”
"In Michigan we will continue to honor everyone's journey who has become part of our family of 10 million people, and remain the most welcoming state in the nation for immigrants and dreamers seeking prosperity, a home and a community that is accepting of their family and their desire to succeed in America."
University presidents also spoke out against the DACA decision. Although public universities do not track undocumented students, it is assumed that Dreamers are well represented in Michigan’s colleges and universities.
Susan Reed of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center says that if Michigan DACA residents lose their protections, it probably won't mean instant deportation.
“We heard Secretary Sessions say that upon termination of the program, people with DACA would not be priorities for deportation. Which sounds meaningful, but then he said that if at any point they encounter an immigration officer, they would be issues a notice to appear in immigration court. So I would interpret that as meaning there aren’t any immediate plans to, say, take the DACA file and go knock on everyone’s door.”
But, she adds, DACA recipients would be just as vulnerable as other undocumented immigrants.
“If someone were stopped for speeding or someone were racially profiled, and of course their driver’s license would have expired concurrent with the end of their DACA status because Michigan does require you to prove legal status to have a valid driver’s license, then they would be detained and placed in legal proceedings just like anyone else who is undocumented.”
The future for DACA recipients
Congress has until March 2018 to pass a legislative solution that would protect Dreamers. While politicians on both sides of the aisle have announced their support of DACA, nothing has been proposed and it is unclear whether the president will sign a bill that doesn’t include other immigration policies, such as his proposed border wall.
In a statement reprimanding President Trump’s decision, the ACLU suggested Congress move forward with the DREAM Act:
“President Trump’s announcement today underscores the urgency to pass clean, standalone, and bipartisan legislation addressing Dreamers’ renewed vulnerability to deportation. There is enough support to pass a clean and bipartisan Dream Act in the House and Senate. Members of Congress must choose a side: either you stand with Dreamers and our country’s foundation or you are siding with the ugly forces that ended the DACA program and are complicit in any deportation of Dreamers from the country they call home.”
In the meantime, new DACA applications will no longer be accepted by U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services. People who currently have DACA, but whose protections will expire before March 5, 2018, can apply before October 5 for one final two-year DACA renewal.
To learn how the DACA decision affects you, or to receive free advice on your immigration status, visit the MIRC website or call 734-239-6863.
This story and headline have been corrected to more accurately reflect the number of DACA recipients in Michigan.