The necessary current fight to restore the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program hides a bitter irony. Despite the necessity to restore this program currently hanging in legal jeopardy, it is nowhere close to a long-term solution.
Since its creation in 2012, DACA has been a meaningful lifeline for many undocumented families, allowing individuals who were children when immigrating to the United States to receive work permits. As implied by its name, DACA does not offer a long-term pathway to citizenship or safety in the United States. Rather, this program defers deportation for those individuals enrolled in the program to a future, unspecified date.
Despite how it might be portrayed in the media as a major form of immigration policy, the program does not provide long-term safety or a pathway towards citizenship for its recipients. Instead, DACA trades a temporary stay of deportation in exchange for recipients’ labor in the United States.
By no means a sufficient, lasting policy, DACA’s temporary protections have helped myriad immigrants for the decade that the program has been on the books. This business of keeping immigrant labor in a state of “deferred” limbo was the status quo until October, when a federal appeals court ruled DACA is “unlawful.”
Currently, more than 600,000 immigrants are uncertain about what will happen when this program and its limited protections cease. It’s not just DACA recipients that are at risk in this moment of crisis. The end of this program has lasting implications for all immigrants. And, because immigrants remain the lifeblood coursing through the U.S. infrastructure, this policy has ramifications for all Americans.
Earlier this month, news outlets reported that a bipartisan bill to support and extend the current DACA program was working its way through the U.S. Senate. While it is unclear if this bill will pass in the current Senate, the timing is urgent. If ever there were a time when we can make even a modicum of progress for DACA recipients, it is in the razor-thin slice of time right now. The current lame duck Congress is set to be overtaken by a Republican House majority.
The need to advocate for this policy is a deeply uncomfortable one. As we must constantly remind everyone, continuing DACA is nowhere near an actual solution. Further, details about the bill suggest that, along with protecting this group of undocumented individuals comes with a sharp increase in funding border security and extending a Trump-era policy, Title 42, that allows the United States to expel migrants on the southern border.
In our ongoing scholarship, we have been exploring the lessons we might learn from individuals who are labeled as undocumented. Throughout this participatory research, some individuals describe themselves as “fully” undocumented, in contrast to DACA recipients. In fact, DACA recipients make up less than 10% of the overall undocumented population in the United States, the plight of the majority of undocumented communities are further marginalized by the attention on deferring deportation for a small, politically palatable minority.
This is the harsh truth about American politics: when current democratic decorum and dealmaking relies on partisan comprise, those whose lives hang in the balance find no resolution. This compromise is no compromise at all. By no means do “fully” undocumented individuals seek to rescind the (paltry) privileges afforded to DACA recipients. This is a horrific time and solidarity with “fully” undocumented communities is a reminder that protecting DACA is a first, small step.
Alíx Dick is a Los Angeles-based storyteller and filmmaker from Sinaloa, Mexico, committed to issues of social justice. Antero Garcia is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University.
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