On December 4th, New York District Judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to be reinstated by Monday, December 7th. Colloquially known as “DACA”, this policy was conceived during the Obama Administration in 2014 and provides protection for children who had been brought illegally to the United States. Although President Trump’s attempts to eliminate DACA entirely were halted by both lower courts and the Supreme Court earlier this year, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolfe sought to restrict the program’s protections to those already enrolled as of July. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration reports that there are currently approximately 643,560 active DACA recipients. However, the program’s revitalization could mean Dreamer eligibility for more than 300,000 individuals.
The mandated reinstatement of DACA feels especially invigorating after a tumultuous election season. In November, millions of Americans watched Joe Biden and Kamala Harris seize the presidency, effectively reversing Trump’s so-called 2016 landslide victory. Since the pair’s victory, Trump has wasted no time in casting aspersions on this year’s election process and engaging in unsuccessful litigation with federal courts in key electoral college states.
As the adrenaline of the election wears off for the rest of the political world, it’s back to business as usual. Questions and criticisms surrounding what Biden has planned for hot-button issues such as healthcare and immigration have begun to pick up steam, particularly as he announces his cabinet nominations. And while the Biden-Harris campaign won the election, they failed to win the support of certain voting coalitions, particularly Latinos in Florida and even some typically-blue Texas counties. Additionally, the results of the run-off election in Georgia will decide which party controls the Senate, thus affecting the likelihood of Biden’s policy agenda being implemented. Undoubtedly, the president-elect will inherit a chaotic status quo, but the question remains as to how successful Biden’s Congress will allow him to be.
Ideally, Congress will be united on immigration policy and allow public opinion to guide their vote. This has already been accomplished by the December 4th ruling, which mirrors Americans’ general support for DACA recipients, commonly known as “Dreamers”. A recent Pew Research survey reveals 74% of U.S. adults support Congress passing a law granting permanent legal status to DACA-eligible individuals. Even 54% of Republicans, whose views on immigration tend to be more conservative, agreed that Congress should be doing more to give legal permanent residence to this demographic.
A quick glance at a graphic created by the American Council on Education demonstrates why this is more than reasonable. In 2018, the organization found that 72% of DACA recipients were pursuing a Bachelor’s degree or higher, and 91% were employed. For the most populous U.S. states, there is a fiscal motivation to maintaining their Dreamer population—California was projected to lose $11.6 billion in GDP value if they were deported, Texas would lose $6.3 billion and New York’s loss was set at $2.6 billion. The benefits of Dreamer constituencies do not only apply to bigger states. As of March, there were DACA recipients in every state, and 12 had populations greater than 12,000.
Economic loss and DACA demographics are not coincidental—they are intimately related, especially when taking into account these individuals’ educational and professional achievements. Unfortunately, for all the contributions Dreamers make to this country, their path to legal status is complicated by the U.S. immigration system. Currently, there are few options for undocumented immigrants to obtain a green card besides leaving the country and applying externally. If the person has spent more than six months in the country illegally, they must wait three years before reentering. That number climbs to 10 years if they spent more than one year in the U.S. without a visa. But what happens when you have spent the majority of your life in the United States? A University of British Columbia study found a positive correlation between immigrants who moved abroad before the age of 15 and their willingness to identify with their adoptive culture. The longer Dreamers spend building their lives in the United States, the more tightly their importance to the wellbeing of this country will become.
Most Americans agree that Dreamers deserve a legal spot in the United States. Understandably, immigration was an important topic during this year’s presidential election; Biden’s campaign website devotes an entire page to discussing his plans for it. Some of his objectives include fleshing out a more robust path to legal permanent residence and naturalization; increasing the number of visas available to permanent, work-based immigrants and, of course, restoring executive commitment to DACA.
In the first 100 days of his presidency, Biden promises to undo many of President Trump’s immigration policies. Additionally, he hopes to “convene a regional meeting of leaders” from various Central and South American countries, including the most common nations of origin for U.S. immigrants. Many Latin Americans are likely to view this with considerable skepticism, given the United States’ history of interventionism in the region.
Given Biden’s shaky history on minority-related issues, his policy goals seem relatively progressive. However, predicting what immigration will actually look like during his presidency is difficult to do, especially until Senate control is verified in January.
It seems that president-elect Biden understands what is expected of him, but the general consensus remains that it will be an uphill battle for him to execute his numerous immigration promises. Even if DACA is reinstated by this administration, the program will continue to serve as a band-aid on a gaping wound that must be thoughtfully resolved. DACA itself is a product of many underlying systemic issues within the immigration system that have been persistent for decades. Ultimately, peace of mind for Dreamers is the tip of the iceberg, and addressing the many changes made by Trump—including the 195 executive orders he signed during his time in the White House—are probably not going to be resolved in one presidential term, and certainly not in the first year or two. Biden’s mandate is a challenge—one that will be the ultimate chance for him to prove that he is the man for the job.