TOP STORIES 10 years after DACA announcement, Dreamers remain in limbo

10 years after DACA announcement, Dreamers remain in limbo

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Immigration advocate and DACA recipient Diana Pliego (center) speaks before the Supreme Court in 2019 as the court prepared to hear arguments about former President Trump’s termination of the program.

Juan Gastelum/National Immigration Law Center


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Juan Gastelum/National Immigration Law Center

Immigration advocate and DACA recipient Diana Pliego (center) speaks before the Supreme Court in 2019 as the court prepared to hear arguments about former President Trump’s termination of the program.

Juan Gastelum/National Immigration Law Center

Ten years ago, Diana Pliego was returning home from a Church youth group event when her parents shared some unexpected news.

Earlier in the day, the Obama administration announced a new program that would protect her and tens of thousands of other immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally.

It was the Delayed Arrival Children Action, or DACA, designed to help undocumented youth such as Pliego, who were brought to the United States as children, often referred to as the Dreamers.

“I just remember having a lot of questions like it sounded too good to be true,” Pliego said this week. “But my parents said, ‘No, we have to talk to a lawyer, we have to file your application.’

And so they did, and in the end, DACA was the answer to their prayers.

Now, on the 10th anniversary of the policy’s announcement, some recipients are reflecting on the opportunities it gave them, but also on its limitations.

DACA was only meant to be temporary

Pliego came to the country with her family from Mexico when she was 3 years old. When DACA was announced, she was preparing to attend college in South Carolina, a state that at the time prohibited people without documents from attending government offices.

Because of this, Pliego decided to attend Columbia College, a private college that accepted her despite her status. She received a full tuition scholarship, but it was not enough.

“My family of six was still barely making ends meet, so just paying [for] Room and food will be a problem,” she said.

DACA allowed Pliego and her siblings to work to support the family and cover the cost of her education.

“Without it, I wouldn’t even have made it to my sophomore year of college, let alone my senior year,” Pliego said.

She graduated and is now a policy consultant at the National Center for Immigration Law.

But DACA was supposed to be a temporary solution – an executive order issued after Congress. I failed a similar measure in the form of a law.

This means that many recipients are left without the possibility of permanent residence in the United States. And after former President Donald Trump tried to cancel the program in 2017, their status has become even more uncertain.

In 2017, people march in front of the US Capitol in support of DACA and temporary protection status.

Jose Luis Magana / AP


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Jose Luis Magana / AP

In 2017, people march in front of the US Capitol in support of DACA and temporary protection status.

Jose Luis Magana / AP

What’s more, DACA recipients are required to renew their status every two years, paying about $500 to keep their work permits and protect themselves from deportation.

“For the last 10 years, I’ve kind of had to live my life in two-year increments, not knowing that one day someone will take it from me and I won’t have any control over that decision,” Pliego said.

That’s why the 10th anniversary is controversial for her.

“It’s actually in a way a big celebration of the movement that got us DACA and this really big win that has changed our lives for the better in so many ways,” Pliego said. “But at the same time, it’s a conflicting feeling… because it was never meant to be a permanent solution. It was temporary and remains temporary.”

Esder Chong, another DACA recipient who traveled to the US with her family from South Korea, said the anniversary was more disappointing than festive. This is a reminder that millions of people – DACA recipients and others – are left without a legal path to citizenship.

“I think about the fact that for 10 years there has been no federal legislation to address the issue of 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country, and the fact that this was never intended to permanently address the issue of our undocumented population,” Chong said.

Chong truly believes that DACA opened the educational and professional doors that got her to where she is today: a holder of two master’s degrees, including one from Harvard, and an advocate for immigration rights.

Holding on to hope in the midst of uncertainty

After the Trump administration tried to shut down the program, the Supreme Court stepped in to revive it, prompting tens of thousands of dreamers to rush to apply.

Then, last July, a federal judge in Texas ruled that DACA was illegal and blocked the Biden administration from granting any new claims, effectively freezing the program.

More than 600,000 recipients like Pliego and Chong can renew their status while the administration appeals the decision, but there are an estimated 80,000 more dreamers whose applications are indefinitely on hold.

There are also hundreds of thousands of others who will never have the opportunity to apply for DACA because they don’t fit in. narrow qualification requirements laid out when the policy was created.

Despite the restrictions that DACA has accumulated over the years, Pliego remains hopeful for legislative action that could pave the way for permanent residency.

“Even though this is an uphill battle, I believe that if we continue to come together as a people, if we continue to be as resilient as before and organize and speak out, then eventually we will have… a permanent solution. what we called for,” she said.

Chong, for his part, also doubts hope. She wants people to be mindful of the undocumented population, which isn’t even protected by the DACA, a policy she claims was exclusive to those “most in demand” among the undocumented population.

“I think that when we talk about a permanent path to safety and inclusion, I really want to bring our attention to those who are not in the conversation this week, which is about 90+ percent of the undocumented population without DACA. ” she said.

Joel Rose contributed to this report.

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