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DACA’s Two Year Anniversary

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Two years ago following Congress’s failure to pass the DREAM Act, President Obama issued an executive order providing some residents who arrived as children the ability to openly participate in and contribute to the economy. This is no free pass and not a path to citizenship. It deals with reality.

This anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) marks the beginning of a new cycle for its beneficiaries. This is a discretionary grant of relief from the threat of removal for a term of two years. The significance of that term today is that the first set of applicants are now in the window for renewal. Because it is not a permanent status, renewal applicants receive the same scrutiny as they did when first applying. Renewal is neither automatic nor certain in the long term. In the short term it assures the simple dignity of acknowledged existence.

For Virginians who achieve this status, there are three significant benefits that confer beyond blocking removal for a term. First, they can legally work. They receive a social security number. Next it provides the status required to obtain a driver’s license even with the punitive Virginia statute establishing absurd presence requirements. And, almost two years after the status was established, thanks to an opinion by Attorney General Mark Herring, they may attend college as in-state residents.  

Until DACA, hundreds of thousands of essentially involuntary immigrants had no way to adjust their status. 533,197 DACA applications have been approved nationally. There have been 10,100 applications from Virginians, of which 8,650 have been approved. Not everyone was immediately eligible and thousands of persons who have resided in the United States since before June 15, 2007 will cascade into eligibility as they achieve age 15. That means that teachers are the most likely persons to come into contact with those newly eligible and should be familiar with the process. At least one such high school teacher was motivated to attend the Central Virginia Regional Meeting of the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights last Saturday in Charlottesville. The Virginia Education Association should encourage more participation.

One thing that enrages about any government program or process is that compliance, for all practical purposes, requires an agent to assist. In this case, when I asked Tim Freilich of the Legal Aid Justice Center if a lawyer was required to prepare the application, his response was that it is advisable. There are only so many Tim Freilichs available and there are specific timelines that must be met. Practically, that means that on top of the fee to apply for this status ($465 every 2 years), a 15 or 16 year old who is probably supporting family here or in another country, has to pony up for legal fees to obtain this status. Reportedly, some nations are providing financial assistance to their citizens through consulates. Other sources of assistance may become available.

However, the program itself may be threatened by Congressional action. None other than Darrell Issa (R-California) has turned his attention to DACA and may lead an effort to block it. DACA at least attempts to bring some immigrants out of the shadows and provide them basic rights. Sadly, human rights are not an always shared American value.