Good news for Dreamers – but not for immigrant parents

Last night, on the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly announced that the program will remain in effect.

The one-line statement was part of a larger announcement that President Obama’s 2014 memorandum creating the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, which has been blocked by court action, is being rescinded.

“We are pleased and relieved to see DACA continue at least for now, despite the president’s campaign promises to eliminate the program,” said Eva A. Millona, executive director of MIRA. “Since DACA started, more than 7,900 Massachusetts residents have successfully applied, with huge benefits not only for these young people, but for our entire communities.”

Under DACA, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children before June 15, 2007, and meet several guidelines can be granted “deferred action” on their cases for two years, subject to renewal, and can obtain work authorization. In Massachusetts, DACA status also confers eligibility for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities, which is denied to other undocumented students. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 19,000 Massachusetts residents are eligible, and another 4,000 will be eligible at a later date or if they meet educational requirements.

“DACA is far from a perfect solution – it excludes all the young people who’ve arrived since June 2007, for instance, and the need to renew every two years creates needless uncertainty and delays,” Millona said. “Still, it is an immensely beneficial and important policy. At a time when immigrants face unprecedented hostility and cruelty, it is good to see our Dreamers keep their protections.”

The DAPA plan that was rescinded would have provided a path for undocumented immigrants with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident child to be considered for deferred action, if they had continuously lived here since Jan. 1, 2010 and met other qualifications.

Before DAPA could be implemented, 26 states challenged the policy in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The court enjoined implementation, a U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the decision, and a 4-4 deadlock in the U.S. Supreme Court resulted in the injunction staying in place.

In Massachusetts, 25% of children under 18 (more than 334,000) are U.S. citizens but have at least one foreign-born parent; another 3.5% (47,000) are themselves foreign-born. While we do not know the exact share of those parents who are undocumented, in the greater Boston metro area, about 21% of immigrants are undocumented – meaning tens of thousands of parents.

“Children need their parents,” said Millona. “Far too many children in Massachusetts right now live in fear that while they’re in school, their mom or dad may disappear. The fear is hurting their education, and keeping families from accessing vital health and social services. And when parents are detained and deported, families are literally torn apart, causing enormous suffering.”

“DAPA was not just an act of kindness – it was smart public policy,” Millona added. “Needlessly dividing families only hurts American communities. The administration can choose to stop cracking down on parents whose only offense is to be here without papers. For the good of millions of U.S. citizen children, we respectfully urge Secretary Kelly to reconsider his agency’s priorities.”

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