Five Years In, What's Next For DACA?

Aug 15, 2017
Originally published on August 15, 2017 3:49 pm

Demonstrators came from across the country to gather at the White House in support of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as toddlers and children.

Five years ago today, President Obama signed an executive order protecting them from deportation. It's known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Now immigrant rights groups — and immigrants themselves — worry that opponents and President Trump's administration are quietly working to revoke protection for DACA participants — young people like Claudia Quiñonez from Bolivia:

"I wouldn't be able to get a higher education, go to school, pay for my car. My whole life would end."

And Fatima Romero, who was born in El Salvador, and was 13 years old when her parents entered the U.S. illegally:

"I'm no less American than anyone who was born in this country. I've never committed a crime, I pay my taxes, we follow the law and all we want is to stay and contribute to the country that has given so much to us."

Nearly 800,000 people have registered under DACA since 2012. Along with protected status, it gives them permission to work, go to school and get a driver's license.

"The point of DACA was to use them as an advertising gimmick," says Mark Krikorian, with the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that lobbies for tighter controls on immigration.

"Here are these sympathetic young people," he says. "Been here since they were 3 months old, don't speak enough Spanish to order at Taco Bell, valedictorians, signed up for the Marine Corps. It was a marketing tactic."

It's the constitutionality of DACA, however, that at least 10 state attorneys general have challenged. They've argued that President Obama did not have the authority to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants, no matter their age, or when and how they entered the U.S. But that fight has been tied up in the courts.

"The Trump administration hasn't said for sure what it's going to do," says Krikorian. "The only way to keep DACA would be for the Justice Department to defend the legality of the program. I don't see how that's even possible."

Absent the Trump administration's support, hundreds of thousands of young people would probably lose their protected status.

So, for now, it's the uncertainty — not knowing what's going to happen next — that has many registered under DACA on edge.

"It's scary," says Maria Diaz, who was a year old when her parents left Puebla, Mexico and arrived in Olathe, Kan., hoping for a better future. Twenty years later, she's finishing college at the University of Kansas.

She says it's scary to think that at any moment something could happen to her parents. "I'm not there to help them to answer the door if immigration comes, if they get pulled over and police ask for their documents."

Guillermina Diaz, Maria's mom, says yes, she's afraid too. In Spanish, she explains that she's constantly telling her daughter: "Don't worry about us. You go on dreaming. Don't give up on your dreams."

Maria has lined up a job at Bank of America — her dream job — this fall. But it won't mean much, she says, if her family is torn apart.

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Demonstrators gathered outside the White House today in support of people who came to the U.S. illegally as children. They've been protected from deportation thanks to an executive order known as DACA, that's for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It was signed by President Obama five years ago today. The Trump administration has said that it wouldn't do away with the program for now, but many DACA recipients worry that their status is still in danger. NPR's Claudio Sanchez has more.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: I'm standing in the middle of Lafayette Square Park. We're in front of the White House, where there are now 200 to 300 immigrants and immigrants' rights advocates who've convened here to send a message. Do not repeal DACA.

CLAUDIA QUINONEZ: I would lose my whole life. I wouldn't be able to get a higher education, go to school, pay for my car. My whole life would end.

SANCHEZ: That was Claudia Quinonez from Bolivia.

QUINONEZ: Quite frankly, I'm very scared but I'm not going to stop fighting.

SANCHEZ: Also at the protest - Fatima Romero from El Salvador.

FATIMA ROMERO: It affects me every day. It's hard for me to function at work 'cause I'm constantly thinking, what if?

SANCHEZ: Fatima's parents entered the U.S. illegally when she was 13.

ROMERO: We're not criminals. We do no harm. We love this nation clearly. Before we get this permit, we have to go through a background check. And in order for us to get this DACA, we have to be clean. We're the cleanest citizen America has.

SANCHEZ: Nearly 800,000 people have registered under DACA since President Obama signed the executive order, giving them protected status, permission to work, go to school and get a driver's license.

MARK KRIKORIAN: The point of DACA was to use them as an advertising gimmick.

SANCHEZ: Mark Krikorian is with the Center for Immigration Studies, which lobbies for tighter controls on immigration.

KRIKORIAN: Here's these sympathetic young people, been here since they were 3 months old, don't speak enough Spanish to order a Taco Bell, valedictorians. I've signed up for the Marine Corps already. Therefore, all 12 million illegal immigrants need amnesty. It was a marketing tactic.

SANCHEZ: It's the constitutionality of DACA, however, that at least 10 state attorneys general have challenged. They've argued that President Obama did not have the authority to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants, no matter their age or when and how they entered the U.S. But that fight has been tied up in the courts.

KRIKORIAN: The Trump administration hasn't said for sure what they're going to do, but the only way they could keep DACA would be for the Justice Department to affirmatively defend the legality of the program. I don't see how that's even possible.

SANCHEZ: Absent the Trump administration's support, about 800,000 people covered by DACA would probably lose the protected status. So for now, it's the uncertainty, not knowing what's going to happen next that has many young people registered under DACA on edge.

MARIA DIAZ: It's scary.

SANCHEZ: Maria Diaz was a year old when her parents left Puebla, Mexico, and arrived in Olathe, Kan., hoping for a better future. That was 20 years ago.

M. DIAZ: I have DACA, but it's scary for me to leave home and know that at any moment, something could happen to my parents. And I'm not there to help them. And I'm not there to answer the door if immigration comes. I'm not there if they get pulled over and the police ask for their documentation. I'm scared.

GUILLERMINA DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

SANCHEZ: Guillermina Diaz, Maria's mom, says she's afraid too. But she's constantly telling her daughter, don't worry about us. You go on dreaming. Don't give up on your dreams. Maria, a business major at the University of Kansas, has a job lined up with Bank of America this fall - her dream job. But it won't mean much, she says, if her family is torn apart. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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