The Trump administration's decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is causing chaos in the lives of nearly 800,000 young immigrants—and in Congress.
DACA is an immigration policy, not a law. It protects unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and allows them to work legally.
These immigrants are called DREAMers after the failed DREAM Act, which would have granted them permanent residency and a path to citizenship. In 2012, after 10 years of failed bipartisan versions of the act, President Obama signed DACA as a temporary order while negotiations continued. A permanent solution was never passed.
Here's how DACA works for a DREAMer:
Why is it important?
DACA addresses one part of a larger problem created by strict border controls. Before the early 1990's, 86% of undocumented migration was offset by people leaving—many adult men traveled back and forth for work, leaving families in other countries. As border controls became more strict (and therefore the risk of being punished increased), the likelihood of illegal migrants leaving again within a year declined. In other words, people crossed the border once and stayed, bringing their families with them.
For the children in those families, DACA is crucial. It allows them to work, pursue their education, and live in the country they've known all their lives.
It's also popular: Around 70% of Americans support DACA, including over 60% of Trump supporters. So why did the Trump administration end it? Attorney Jeff Sessions made several incorrect claims about the program in a speech officially announcing the end of the policy. The real answer seems to be this: the Trump administration is delivering a hard-line stance on immigration to a core group of followers. At the same time, Trump hopes to appeal to more moderate Republicans by challenging Congress to pass a permanent solution.
DREAMers are not immediately at risk for deportation, thanks to a six month delay in the policy change. What options are legislators debating to replace it?
What should we do to replace DACA?
The DREAM Act
Like the RAC Act and DACA, the DREAM Act now in the Senate would give conditional legal status to young immigrants, but it includes provisions that make it more comprehensive and humane.
First, it applies more broadly: young people can apply if they arrived before age 18, have been here for more than four years, and if they have what's called Temporary Protected Status (a larger set than just those who are undocumented).
Second, the DREAM Act "doesn’t force immigrants to stay in 'conditional' limbo for a particular amount of time; instead, they can get green cards after they’ve been in college for a certain amount of time (or have a degree), or have been employed for at least 75 percent of the time they’ve had a work permit."
The DREAM Act is the right solution for a bipartisan group. It is the only major solution with both co-sponsors from both parties.
The RAC Act
The Recognizing America's Children (RAC) Act now in the House is fair and reasonable. Like DACA, it would give legal status to young immigrants who arrived before they were 16 years old and are studying, working, or serving in the military.
It applies to people who arrived before age 16 and have been here for more than five years. The RAC Act would also give them a stable path to citizenship—something they don't currently have. After five years, they could apply for permanent residency and then citizenship. At the same time, however, it maintains strict requirements for productive contributions to society: among other factors, applicants must be consistently employed or in school, be honorably discharged if they serve in the armed forces, have no criminal record and not rely on public assistance.
As a result, this proposal is a practical solution. 29 Republicans have co-sponsored the bill so far.