The Trump administration’s Sept. 4 announcement that it will formally phase out the DACA immigration program will affect the lives of over 800,000 people currently residing in the United States, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was initially created in 2012 under the Obama administration as an alternative to the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act.
DREAM would have offered immigrant children the chance to gain permanent legal residency, but the act did not get congressional approval. As a result, President Obama enacted the DACA program via executive order. DACA allows immigrants who arrived in the United States before 2007 to remain in the country legally.
Salt Lake City immigration attorney J.J. Despain said there are many misconceptions about the legal limitations and allowances of DACA.
“A lot of people who are against DACA treat it like it’s amnesty, like it’s a free government handout,” Despain said. “All DACA is, really, is a work permit, and it stops there.”
DACA applicants must have arrived in the United States before the age of 16, can have no criminal history and must pay a $495 fee in order to apply. Once accepted to the program, DACA recipients can live and work in the United States for two years and are required to pay taxes, but receive no government benefits. Recipients also must renew their DACA status every two years.
Speaking of those individuals in the DACA program who now face an uncertain future, Despain said any assistance given would be well deserved.
“If there’s any group of undocumented immigrants who people can agree deserve some sort of help, it would be this group,” Despain said. “These are people who maybe didn’t even know they were undocumented until maybe they were teenagers.”
One of those participants is recent BYU alumnus Jose Franco. Franco is from Guanajuato, Mexico and immigrated to the United States when he was 13. Several years after coming to the U.S., Franco entered the DACA program as a last resort after his father lost his legal status over a miswritten date in paperwork.
Since entering the DACA program, Franco said he has enjoyed countless opportunities.
“I’ve been able to get a job, an inside job. Prior to that, I worked outside doing landscaping because you get paid cash. But through DACA, I got a job doing sales,” Franco said. “It made my life easier in terms of school, in terms of work, in terms of being able to move around more freely without any fear.”
When Franco heard that President Donald Trump would be ending the DACA program, he was immediately struck with a sense of worry for himself and for his family.
“If (DACA) is taken away, then everything that I worked so hard to accomplish will be thrown out of the window,” Franco said.
President Trump gave Congress six months to address the DACA program, hoping to create a more constitutionally sound solution.
While many DACA participants like Franco may have initially reacted with great concern over the termination of the program, Despain said he believes this six-month period could give rise to a more permanent immigration policy.
Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson issued a call to action in a press release following the DACA announcement.
“Real solutions to immigration and border security will require leadership from Congress and cooperation from the executive branch,” Matheson said in the press release. “It is time to solve the immigration quandary with American determination, innovation and compassion.”
Despain also said he hopes for successful changes in this six-month period and that Congress will take action to improve the lives of DACA recipients.
“One thing that’s nice is that Congress would have the power to make (DACA) even better than before,” Despain said. “They have the power to change law instead of what President Obama did, which was to change internal regulation. They can give more than just a work permit; they can give a path to citizenship.”
Despite the uncertainty surrounding his current situation, Franco said he has hope for a brighter future and encourages fellow DACA participants to maintain their own sense of hope.
“I would tell (DACA participants) what my mom told me: just don’t worry,” Franco said. “Get involved and rally people around and educate them. If we’re going to make our case and our voices heard, then we have to speak out.”
A free DACA clinic will be held by the BYU Law School for all current participants whose DACA status expires between Sept. 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018. The deadline to renew is Oct. 5, 2017.