DACA and the American Attitude toward Immigration

LSU law professor Lauren Aronson wanted to create a place for DACA recipients to come with questions or concerns and to help them get started on the renewal application before the October 5 date.

No student showed up. Aronson then wondered if she didn’t get the word out soon enough, if there was fear of no longer being anonymous or if that population wasn’t within the LSU student population.

Louisiana has about 2,000 DACA recipients.

DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program formed in 2012 by the Obama administration allowing children brought into the United States illegally by their parents to receive temporary amnesty.

The program allows the near 800,00 recipients to work, get an education and obtain driver’s licenses. Recipients must show that they have clean criminal records, enrolled in high school, college, or serve in the military.

DACA applicants had to be no older than 30 years old when the program began. They also had to prove that they had lived in the United States continuously since June 15, 2007, and that they had arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16.

In recent events, the Trump administration began phasing out DACA. As for current recipients, their protections will remain. New DACA applications received by September 5 and renewal applications received by October 5.

Although America has been accepting newcomers into the country since the 1800s, attitudes haven’t always been welcoming.

“There has always been this tension of immigrants wanting to come and also a tension of some American workers being suspicious of immigrants and of employers wanting to welcome immigrants,” U.S. immigration history professor Zevi Gutfreund said.

Most DACA recipients arrived from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. There are a number from Asia, primarily South Korea and the Philippines.

The idea of legal immigration only started 52 years ago in 1965. The idea continued to develop throughout the 1980s between the presidential candidates George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan during a primary debate.

Political conversations about protecting children immigrants began in the early 2000s with the well-known act, the DREAM act, an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.

In comparison, DACA never achieved what the DREAM act would. The DREAM act, which has been proposed to Congress every year since 2001, would have provided a pathway to citizenship for children.

“DACA never did that and never could do it because that would have been overreaching,” Aronson said. “Obama couldn’t make law. What Obama did was just increased the use of something called prosecutorial discretion, which every law enforcement officer has the power of use.”

Prosecutorial discretion in immigration law terms refers to the power that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has to discontinue working on a deportation case. One example ICE can exercise prosecutorial discretion is ICE can join a person in asking an immigration judge to close your case.

Aronson said one misunderstanding from the public is that if you’re able to get a social security number, then you’re in the social security system. However, that is not the case with DACA recipients.

“Those DACA kids who have now been paying in for almost five years since DACA started, they will never be able to take anything out of the system. They’re only paying into the system, they’re never going to be benefiting from social security,” Aronson said.

Aronson said that DACA has been a great benefit to the economy in a sense that participants are paying higher taxes than they would if they were illegal. She also believes those who contribute to society, don’t drain our economy or commit crimes should have a pathway to citizenship.

“They are still here unlawfully, it’s just that during that unlawful period he [Obama] provided them the ability to get work authorization so that they could make a living and they could contribute to our economy,” Aronson said.

According to the Interfaith Worker Justice organization, ending DACA would take 685,000 workers from the country’s economy. It would cause Louisiana to lose $91 million in annual GDP losses. In national GDP, it would be a $460.3 billion loss over the next decade.

A recent nationwide survey from the Center of American Progress finds that after receiving DACA, 63 percent of recipients moved to jobs with better pay, 49 percent gained greater access to employment that matches their education and training and 48 percent worked at jobs with better working conditions.

Gutfreund said in U.S. immigration history, America has gone through patterns of welcoming immigration from 1880s to 1920s, then limiting immigration and then trying to welcome immigrants back again in the 1960s.

“I think what we’re seeing is that immigration law is 52 years old, and we’re starting to see a backlash partly because the economy has been struggling for so many people since 2008 and immigrants are the last ones here and the first ones to be blamed,” Gutfreund said.

Hispanic Student Cultural Society president Hannah Mizwa has been disappointed with the headlines she’s seen in the news about DACA.

“I know there’s a lot of politics with immigration but nobody considers what it’s like to have to be in that situation,” Mizwa said.

Mizwa said she can’t directly relate to those who are DACA recipients since she is not one herself nor knows anyone who is but still feels for those who are.

Mizwa said she has seen LSU faculty reach out in mass email to the DACA audience with support.

As professionals, Gutfreund and Aronson agree that the public is generally uneducated about immigration and the immigration process.

Mizwa thinks college students need to make an effort to be conscious of worldly matters.

“I think it’s important to know what’s going on especially because we have it so good as college students, even if we’re paying our own bills, we’re in college which is an amazing opportunity. But I feel like you need to be involved and to know what’s going on, otherwise, what’s the point?” Mizwa said.

Mizwa thinks her generation will be the one to be the most accepting of different cultures and educate future generations to come from harboring prejudices socially and politically.

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