USCIS Reopens DACA for First-Time Applicants, As Court Reinstates the Dreamers Program
Following a recent court order, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it has started accepting new applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The program has also been restored to its status before September 2017 when the Trump administration attempted to end it.
DACA was created in 2012 by the Obama administration to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation. The program also gave recipients the eligibility to apply for a work permit, get a state-issued identification or driver's license, as well as social security number.
At its commencement in 2012, thousands of young immigrants registered for and benefitted from the program. To be eligible for the DACA, an applicant must be at least 15 years old at the time of filing the application, and under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012. They must have been brought to the US while they were under 16 years old and must have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007. From 2012 to September 2017, the program had recorded up to 800,000 signups.
Things, however, took a different turn after President Trump assumed office. Just like many of President Obama’s domestic policy achievements and other immigration benefits, several attempts were made by President Trump towards dismantling DACA.
Precisely in September 2017, the Trump administration through the then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had announced that it would terminate DACA, denouncing it as “an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch” that encouraged unauthorized immigration.
Following that announcement, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the USCIS began plans to wind down the program. Fortunately, DACA survived the onslaughts of the Trump administration as it was kept alive by various court rulings.
Though DHS failed in its attempt to terminate the so-called Dreamers program, it, however, succeeded in making several changes to it, which kept both recipients and eligible candidates in limbo for years. This includes the suspension of new applications, which shut doors against hundreds of candidates who became eligible since 2017. In addition, DHS also shortened how long DACA renewals were valid from two years to one year and reduced the chances of obtaining Advance Parole for international travel.
After several legal tussles, DACA recorded a major breakthrough on Friday, December 4 when a US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the Trump administration must restore the program to its status before the September 2017 attempt to terminate it. The judge also ordered that DHS must publish a public notice on its website and other relevant website announcing that it has started accepting new applications for DACA.
What Does This Judgment Mean to the LGBT Dreamers Community?
There are around 80,000 LGBT Dreamers across various US states. Just like every DACA recipient, these LGBT Dreamers have also been greatly affected by the challenges facing the program in recent years. A survey conducted by Williams Institute shows that an estimated 39,000 LGBT people have enrolled for the program out of a total 81,000 Dreamers. Most LGBT DACA recipients came to the US at a tender age, with many of them being under five years of age at the time they arrived in the country.
While the recent developments have been challenging to all Dreamers, for LGBT Dreamers, it must have been more devastating. Findings showed that there have been systemic failures to protect LGBT people of color in the US. They are more likely to live in poverty compared to their non-LGBT peers. So, for many LGBT Dreamers, the introduction of the DACA program came as a leeway which allowed them to earn more and become financially independent.
Unfortunately, due to the disruption in the DACA application process and other restrictions, most LGBT Dreamers have lived the past few years in uncertainty and fears. The developments have affected their trajectory in various ways. For instance, apart from living in fear of being deported due to lack of proper documents, the suspension greatly affected eligible candidates’ chances of applying for jobs, schools, and other benefits.
This explains why the latest ruling came as a relief to the LGBT Dreamers. This means they can leverage the court order to process their application, become a recipient, and obtain the necessary documents to pursue their dreams and continue living in the US without fear of deportation.
DACA Is a Temporary Fix: Dreamers Advocate for More Comprehensive Program
While the recent ruling has brought a ray of hope for Dreamers country-wide, it is worth noting that DACA is only a temporary fix. There is still a need for a more comprehensive package for this category of immigrants. Unlike many immigration programs in the US, DACA has quite limited benefits as it doesn’t offer a path to permanent residence or green card. This means a recipient may only live, work, and study in the United States but cannot receive US citizenship no matter how long they have been in the country. It is then not surprising to see many Dreamers calling for a more beneficial status.
With the imminent change of guard at the White House by January 2021, many hope that the incoming administration of Joe Biden would be much more favorable towards Dreamers than the outgoing government.
Biden’s recent statements suggest he would show commitments towards the program upon assumption of office. In June, the President-elect had tweeted "Dreamers are Americans. But Trump's ripped away the hard-won protections of DACA recipients, throwing their lives into upheaval. It's unacceptable, and on day one of my presidency, I will protect them from deportation and send a bill to Congress."
Also, after the court ruling, a spokesperson of Biden's transition team, Jennifer Molina has also reiterated the President-elect's intention to support DACA.
“Dreamers have fought so hard for justice. For the second time, a court has ordered the administration to resume processing DACA applications. It’s time to do the right thing. On day one, President-elect Biden will ensure Dreamers and their families have the opportunity to live their lives free of fear and continue to contribute to our country,” said Molina.
Dreamers and their allies have shown resilience and doggedness in the past three years. They have taken to the streets and attended several court hearings to keep the program alive. The December 4 ruling is a reward for their spirited efforts of years of advocacy, and it is indeed worth celebrating. Though DHS has said it may seek to appeal the ruling by Judge Nicholas Garaufis, for now, the reinstatement order remains effective.
Olusegun Akinfenwa is a political correspondent for ImmiNews, a UK based organization that covers political and social events from around the world.