DACA: The Status Today and Why Drug Reformers Should Care
Written by Arturo Lua Castillo, SSDP’s Latin America Policy Intern. Arturo has previously written about DACA here. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is an immigration policy designed to give those who arrived undocumented in the US as children a chance to legally attend school and work. The justification for passing this policy was that many of these immigrants came to the US not as a result of their own choice, but were instead brought here as children by their parents. These children were raised in America and had been nearly fully assimilated into American culture. Although being raised in the United States afforded them a public education and an acclimation to the American culture, not having legal documents of residency or citizenship in the country presented an obstacle for finding legal work or acquiring a higher education. DACA makes legal work possible through work authorizations and temporary Social Security granted by the Department of Homeland Security. Before the program was enacted, deportation was a very real fear and obstacle for children of immigrants since it would send them to a country that had become more foreign to them than the United States. DACA provided some safety from this fear by assuring that recipients could not get deported for minor crimes. Deportation still poses a great threat since it could still separate families as the parents of DACA recipients receive none of these protections.
Immigrants: not by choice Many of the DACA recipients in the United States today had no choice on whether or not their families moved to the US. To understand why they’re here we must first understand why they left their homelands in the first place. Like many issues in the United States, it can be tied directly back to the War on Drugs. Most DACA recipients are from Mexico and Central America, places that have become notorious for violence and human rights violations from both drug cartels and their actual government officials. When the government is in collusion with drug cartels the rule of law begins to deteriorate and further economic growth is stunted by the lack of investment and business. This reduction of legitimate work also expands the economic power of cartels as they are more capable of recruiting the unemployed and enforce their own rule of law. With no competent government or civil authorities to keep them in check, and a massive stream of income from the US (the world’s largest market for illicit drugs), cartels and organized crime have both the power and will to endanger civilians and exasperate poverty by making areas under their control unsuitable for raising a family. For these reasons, many DACA recipients came across the border for the sake of their safety. Perhaps their families were under threat from a criminal organization, or they were unable to find legitimate work due to the chaos caused by organized crime. It is important for the people of the US to understand that for many immigrants there was simply no choice but to leave. For SSDPers and our allies, it is also important to recognize that protecting immigrants for deportation is a critical component to dismantling the War on Drugs, as much of the regional violence previously mentioned is a direct consequence of the United State’s actions to eliminate the supply of drugs in Latin America.
A Political Game As the situation for more than half a million DACA recipients grows direr, the immigrant population of the United States is pressing Congress to make a decision on what to do with the nearly 800,000 recipients of DACA, many of which have since attended colleges and or joined the workforce. In September 2017 President Trump called for a wind down of the program, leading to its eventual end. This sparked outrage amongst members of the Democratic Party who supported the policy enacted by the administration of President Obama. It should be noted, however, that the DACA program was made via executive order and has remained so because of Congress’s failure to pass the DREAM Act, which would not only sign the benefits of DACA into law but also provide a future path towards citizenship for its recipients. The recent push from the Trump administration to end the DACA program in its entirety not only leaves a tremendous uncertainty for DACA recipients currently in the workforce and in college but marks yet another absolute failure on behalf of the US government to find some solution for the multitudes of undocumented immigrants within the country’s borders. The polarized political spectrum in the US has different ideas on what immigration reform should look like and neither side is even remotely willing to concede in order to achieve some kind of solution. While the Republican side of Congress emphasizes the need for increased border security to reduce the amount of illegal immigration in the country (a figure that as of recently has been declining), not much is said in terms of a solution for immigrants currently residing within the country. In fact, instead of seeking some sort of solution to the issues that law-abiding immigrants face, the Trump administration has vilified immigrants. ( See also: On Hatian and African Immigrants) This stigmatization is also used as a means to create approval within Trump’s base for the increased deportations of law-abiding immigrants. The Democratic Party is also to blame for the failure to reform. While it garners many votes on the promise of a path towards citizenship and better visa laws, Democrats have recently used the fact that they are not the Republicans to further promote their image. While many Democratic lawmakers rush to vilify the actions of the President and his party very few come forward with real answers to the immigration problem the country faces.
Questions Still Stand What will happen to the nearly 800,000 Dreamers and their families once the DACA program is phased out? Will they be able to work and live in the US? Or will they once again be forced into the shadows? These questions are constantly circling around immigrant communities but no answers seem to come. As Democrats and Republicans debate over which side’s policies are more unacceptable, college students, workers, and parents are forced to live in fear of deportation and future uncertainty as the fate of their families are being juggled by officials who day by day seem more interested in winning a childish tug-of-war than solving issues. To the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, this is not a game and we need action.
Note From The Author As a DACA recipient, I have lived in the United States for as long as I can remember, essentially my entire life. I grew up reading praises about immigrants in this country. Places like Angel Island and Ellis Island stand as testaments to the history of this country. Today our leadership is trying to change the public’s view of immigrants. Whether or not we as a society begin to view immigrants as the sort of people who have in the past contributed great things to this country, or as foreign invaders will depend on our generation. If we are to form real solutions to the problems this community faces we must look at the facts and attempt to find the best way to resolve this situation. We do not have time for politics in this topic. Families are being separated and lives are being destroyed, all because of political polarization and a lack of knowledge of what the lives of immigrants in the US are like and why they are here.