As 2016 Elections Loom, So Does A Possible End To DACA | KUOW News and Information

As 2016 Elections Loom, So Does A Possible End To DACA

Jan 3, 2016
Originally published on January 5, 2016 11:17 am

Back in 2012, President Obama took executive action to create a program for unauthorized immigrants who entered the U.S. as children before June of 2007, and who are currently younger than 34.

That program has come to be known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — and since it was instituted, it has temporarily protected almost 700,000 people from deportation.

How long the original DACA program lasts, though, will depend on who wins the 2016 presidential race. (There's also a lawsuit against an expansion Obama planned to make to the DACA program that has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.)

By now, almost all of the Republicans running to replace Obama have been asked how they would handle the program as the next president. And just about all of them — including Gov. Chris Christie, Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio — have said they would get rid of DACA.

That's a scenario that immigrants like Valentina Garcia, a sophomore at Dartmouth College, are preparing for.

"I'm still trying to figure out if my major's going to work out, if my plan to go to medical school is going to work out. It all really depends on DACA," she says.

Garcia was 6 years old when she and her family left Uruguay by plane on tourist visas. After those expired, they stayed in the U.S. In 2014, Garcia received DACA — and with it, a Social Security number. A Georgia resident, she was also able to apply for a driver's license.

"We've moved about four times in the past two years, and I've been the one that's been looking for houses. I've been the one that's transferring the utilities," Garcia says. "I'm like the second dad, the second mom with my family."

Roberto Gonzales, a sociologist at Harvard University, has studied the lives of young immigrants without legal status. And according to his studies, Garcia is by no means the only one who has taken on more responsibility in the family since DACA.

"They're playing greater roles within their family, within their community. And so an elimination of DACA would have ripple effects that extend far beyond these individuals," Gonzales says. He notes that the temporary work permits they receive through DACA have allowed many to stop working under the table.

"These young people have taken giant steps towards the American Dream," he adds. "They now have new jobs. They're getting healthcare. They're building credit."

But they're not on the path to citizenship — and their long-term future in the U.S. is still a big question mark. The Obama administration has put DACA recipients at the bottom of its priority list for deportation, but Victor Nieblas of the American Immigration Lawyers Association says that could change under a new administration.

"We have to be honest here," Nieblas says, "and we have to indicate that it really all depends on who wins the presidency and the immigration policies of this new president" — policies that could directly impact Jin Park, a 19-year-old Harvard student who was one of the first to receive DACA in 2012.

"Somebody can drag me out of my chemistry class at 10 a.m. and deport me," Park says. "That is a real possibility, and it's scary, you know."

Born in South Korea, Park was 7 when he took a plane to the U.S. with his parents. Like Garcia, Park and his family overstayed their tourist visas. Now, he says he's paying close attention to the presidential race — "All the debates, all the Republican debates, I really try to watch."

"For me, surviving as a single mother with a child — you know, a 3-year-old — I definitely have to start thinking about savings," says Antonia Rivera of Des Moines, Iowa, a 33-year-old mother who is also preparing for the possible end to DACA.

She walked across the border from Mexico illegally with her mother and younger sister when she was 6.

"I'm a survivor," Rivera says. "I know how to survive without any source of legal document that allows me to work and drive legally in this country. But I know it's really, really hard to do."

It's a challenge that more than a half-million DACA recipients may have to face when Obama leaves the White House.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've been thinking about this new year which is now upon us, and we note that 2016 will be a critical year for many people who are residing in the U.S. without authorization. More than half a million people have been temporarily protected from deportation by President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It's known as DACA. But how long that program lasts will likely depend on who wins the presidency. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has more.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Back in 2012, President Obama took executive action to create a program for unauthorized immigrants who entered the U.S. as children before 2007 and are currently under 34. It's called DACA. And now almost all of the Republicans running to replace Obama have been asked what would you do as the next president?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEGYN KELLY: Would you reverse President Obama's executive action on illegal immigration?

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK TODD: You'll rescind the Dream Act executive order or DACA.

DONALD TRUMP: We have to make a whole new set of standards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCO RUBIO: We're not going to extend the program. DACA is going to end.

WANG: That was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Fox News, Donald Trump on NBC and Sen. Marco Rubio. Like most of their fellow GOP candidates, they say they would get rid of DACA. That's a scenario that immigrants like Valentina Garcia are preparing for. She's a sophomore at Dartmouth College.

VALENTINA GARCIA: I'm still trying to figure out if my major's going to work out, if my plan to go to medical school is going to work out. It all really depends on DACA.

WANG: Garcia was 6 when she and her family left your Uruguay by plane on tourist visas. After those expired, they stayed in the U.S. And in 2014, Garcia received DACA, and with it a Social Security number and then a drive license.

GARCIA: We've moved about four times in the past two years. And I've been the one that's been looking for houses. I've been the one that's transferred the utilities. I'm like the second dad, the second mom.

ROBERTO GONZALES: They're playing greater roles within their family, within their community. And so an elimination of DACA would have ripple effects that extend far beyond these individuals.

WANG: That was Roberto Gonzales, a sociologist at Harvard University. He's studied the lives of young immigrants without legal status. Gonzales says the temporary work permits they receive through DACA have allowed many to stop working under the table.

GONZALES: These young people have taken giant steps towards the American dream. They now have new jobs. They're getting health care. They're building credit.

WANG: But they're not on the path to citizenship, and their long-term future here in the U.S. is still a big question mark. The Obama administration has put DACA recipients at the bottom of its priority list for deportations. But Victor Nieblas of the American Immigration Lawyers Association says that could change under a new administration.

VICTOR NIEBLAS: We have to be honest here, and we have to indicate that it really all depends on who wins the presidency and the immigration policies of this new president.

WANG: Policies that could directly impact Jin Park, a 19-year-old student at Harvard, who was one of the first to receive DACA in 2012.

JIN PARK: Somebody can drag me out of my chemistry class at 10 a.m. and deport me. That is a real possibility, and it's scary, you know?

WANG: Park was born in South Korea. He was 7 when he took a plane to the U.S. with his parents. They overstayed their tourist visas. Now Park says he's paying close attention to the presidential race.

PARK: All the debates - all the Republican debates I really try to watch.

ANTONIA RIVERA: For me, surviving as a single mother with a child, you know, a 3-year-old, I definitely have to start thinking about my savings.

WANG: Thirty-three-year-old Antonia Rivera of Des Moines, Iowa, is also preparing for the possible ending of DACA. She walked across the border from Mexico illegally with her mother and younger sister when she was 6 years old.

RIVERA: I'm a survivor. I know how to survive without any sorts of legal document that allows me to work and drive legally in this country. But I know it's really, really hard to do.

WANG: And it's a challenge that more than a half-million DACA recipients may have to face when President Obama leaves the White House. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.