Six years ago Friday (6/15), President Barack Obama signed an executive order calling for deferred action for childhood arrivals. Through the program, some people who came to the U.S. illegally as children are insulated from deportation and allowed work permits. KLCC explains the state of DACA and how it impacts some Oregonians.
[WhiteHouse.gov tape] “Let's be clear--this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix.”
President Obama introduced DACA after the DREAM act again failed to pass. Six years later, the interim policy remains.
Molina: “Deferred action means, 'We could take action in removing you from the U.S., but we're going to defer that action to a later date.'”
Abigail Molina is an immigration attorney in Springfield. She says DACA applies to a *limited group of young people as of its 2012 inception. Applicants have to have arrived in the U.S. under age 16, have been continuously here since 2007, and either be in school or have earned a high school diploma or GED. There are other restrictions as well. Molina says having one felony, like a DUI, or two misdemeanors will disqualify an applicant, and
Molina: “Even if you have one non-significant misdemeanor it's still discretionary so if the officer who is reviewing your case doesn't like that particular crime, then you could be denied.”
The fuzzy interpretation means any interaction with police is potentially life changing. Ulises (who didn't want to use his last name) is a DACA student at Oregon State University:
Ulises: “One small infraction such as a ticket or such could lead to DACA revocation or being deported, which is a super scary thing. And that kind of makes you not want to go out in the world. And that leads to, you know, overthinking everything, every move you make.”
Ulises says most people have no idea of his status. He participates in DREAMer groups, but prefers to be anonymous. Keeping a low profile is common. Juan Navarro is a grad student at OSU. He says in high school outside Salem, he thought he was the only one on DACA:
Navarro: “And then I found out that there was about seven of us but no one knew of each other, that they were undocumented. You're taught, in a small conservative town, you're really taught to stay to yourself.”
Navarro is pretty sure he has more undocumented peers from high school who never revealed themselves. DACA students can't get aid from federal programs, like Pell Grants. They can get in-state tuition, through Oregon's tuition equity law, which some people oppose.
Jim Ludwick is with Oregonians for Immigration Reform. He says the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at the U of O is about $24,000 per year. He rounds up to $25,000 for simplicity:
Ludwick: “So you're talking about a $100,000 benefit to an illegal alien, that would be unavailable to an American citizen, who may have graduated from high school from Idaho or Montana or Washington.”
Oregon is one of about 20 states that allow in-state tuition for DACA students. Navarro says it helps, but for people who want a work permit, DACA expenses can be a barrier:
Navarro: “It's $495 plus like lawyer fees if you go through a lawyer. Having DACA itself is a privilege, but I'm sure there's a lot more people that qualify for the program that just don't have the money.”
If someone meets the requirements and can pay, they still might not choose to apply. Since President Trump rescinded DACA last September, courts ruled people can renew their status, but new applications are suspended. Molina says people are confused, and wary of more change. She encouraged one client to apply for DACA after going through paperwork for another issue, but he said 'no':
Molina: “I just went through too much with that last one that we just did and I got my hopes up and I don't want to do that again.”
She confirms there are drastically fewer renewals this year.
Molina: “Especially now that we've seen that DACA can be taken away, why does anybody want to give their information: where they live, where they work? Whoever's living at the address that you put down, they could be subject to interrogation or ICE presence.”
Courtney Garcia is a counselor with the Educational Opportunities Program at OSU. She works with Juan and Ulises, and says DACA students worry about their families:
Garcia: “We have another student who did an article and then a professor felt like she was maybe putting her family in danger and it's really made her hold back and not want to do any interviews and be 'out' anymore.”
Juan Navarro says DREAMers care about comprehensive immigration reform:
Navarro: “I'd rather wait longer so that my parents don't ... so that nothing happens them because they don't have any protection, so it's up to us to advocate for them.”
He travelled to Washington D.C. for the State of the Union address as a guest of Congressman Kurt Schrader, and he continues to speak for DREAMers. Ulises appreciates people like Navarro:
Ulises: “Though not many people are open about that it's good to see those people who are, because then we get to hear another voice of what people are going through.”
He says DREAMers need the help of U.S. citizens:
Ulises: “Allies are really one of the driving forces because they have a bigger voice than DACA recipients do, such as voting, which we don't get to do.”
Challenges to the program and to its repeal are pending in the courts. The DREAM Act, granting DACA holders a way to become citizens, continues to be stalled in Congress.