Immigrant rights advocates in California and nationwide will focus on pushing the Biden administration and Congress to enact immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, after a judge last week declared DACA unlawful.
Thousands of high school and college students in California lost hope of obtaining work permits and deportation protection when a federal judge on Friday stopped the government from receiving new DACA applications.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, offers temporary protection from deportation and permission to work for about 650,000 young people who came to the U.S. as children. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the Trump administration’s decision to stop the program was “arbitrary and capricious,” and an estimated 300,000 people became eligible to apply for DACA for the first time in December.
This included some 55,500 people who turned 15, the minimum age to apply, since the government had stopped accepting new applications. Yet the Supreme Court did not rule on whether the program was legal in the first place.
Advocates point to the latest ruling as evidence that DACA does not go far enough since it does not offer recipients a path toward legal permanent residency or citizenship.
The Obama administration began DACA in 2012 after Congress failed multiple times to pass more comprehensive immigration reform. The program offers two-year permits and protection from deportation, after which recipients must apply for renewal.
Ines Martinez, 19, turned in her application for DACA in December, just after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting new applications.
A student at Cabrillo College in Aptos, near Santa Cruz, Martinez was not eligible for DACA before because when it began in 2012, she had not yet turned 15, and soon after she turned 15, the Trump administration stopped accepting new applications.
Martinez received word that her application was received in January, and in June, she was given an appointment to have fingerprints and photographs taken.
Then on Friday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen sided with Texas and eight other states and decided that DACA was unlawful because former President Barack Obama did not have the authority to enact such a policy. He ordered the immigration agency to stop approving new applications.
When Martinez heard the news, she was shocked, then worried, then devastated.
“I had my hopes up really, really high. I was so close; I was really close to getting my DACA approved,” Martinez said. “For that to happen, it just felt really frustrating.”
Without DACA, Martinez does not have permission to work legally in the U.S., and she lives with the constant fear of deportation. She came to the U.S. illegally when she was 1 year old and has lived in Santa Cruz ever since.
Immigrants who already have protection under DACA will not be affected by the order and can still submit applications to renew their permits. The judge said in order to keep DACA in place, the Biden administration would need to ask for public comment on the policy, among other actions.
A path to permanent residency and citizenship for young people brought to the U.S. as children has broad support from Americans. About three-quarters of respondents to a survey by Pew Research Center last year said they approve of a pathway to permanent legal status. To be eligible for DACA, applicants must have come to the U.S. before they turned 16 and have lived here since June 15, 2007, in addition to attending school or having graduated from high school and not been convicted of certain crimes.
The Biden administration is expected to appeal Friday’s ruling.
Meanwhile, Martinez and advocates nationwide say they are pushing for reform more permanent than DACA.
“Today’s ruling is evidence that DACA is not enough. The program has always been temporary, leaving hundreds of thousands of lives vulnerable to the next attack,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, executive director of the immigrant youth organization United We Dream, in a written statement. She also wrote, “Until President Biden and Democrats in Congress deliver on citizenship, the lives of millions of undocumented people remain on the line. Democrats must pass a pathway to citizenship this year, no excuses!”
“Make no mistake about it, Hanen’s decision today is an attack on hundreds of thousands of immigrants that consider the U.S. their home,” wrote Fatima Flores, political director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, based in Los Angeles. “As a DACA beneficiary, I am frustrated and angry that our lives are once again being thrown into the fire. Congress needs to act immediately to protect our lives by including immigrants in reconciliation. To my fellow immigrants: an entire movement stands alongside us. We are not alone. To our families and allies: we need you to be relentless and fight in solidarity with us. The time to stand on the sidelines is over. We need everyone all in, now.”
Some California members of Congress have been advocating for immigration reform. Sen. Alex Padilla has pushed for a path to citizenship for essential workers, which was included in the Senate’s proposed budget resolution. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard sponsored a bill that passed the House of Representatives in March, known as the Dream and Promise Act, which would also give a path to citizenship to young people, including those eligible for DACA.
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