To DREAM or not to DREAM, DACA is the question

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After months of discussion, the Trump administration formally announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).  In a press conference held on September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared that the administration will immediately stop accepting new applications for legal status under DACA and will phase out the program over the next six months. The decision came on the deadline for repeal set by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine other attorney generals, who had planned to expand a lawsuit against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) to include DACA if it was not ended by the Trump administration.


The DACA program enacted by President Barack Obama through an executive order in 2012 aimed to help the so-called DREAMers, minors under the age of 16 without any criminal history that came to the United States illegally before 2007. The program allows eligible individuals to receive DACA protection from deportation proceedings for a renewable two-year period and grants them the opportunity to enroll in college and obtain authorization to seek employment. It is estimated that approximately 800,000 foreigners in the U.S. currently benefit from the DACA program.

A recent poll showed that 86 percent of Americans support the DACA program and believe recipients should be allowed to remain in the country.


The decision to end DACA has been met with widespread opposition from the business community. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated that the decision to end DACA is “contrary to fundamental American principles and the best interests of [the] country.” In a letter posted on, over 400 CEOs called for President Donald Trump and Congress to maintain the program. The business leaders’ letter highlights the negative economic impact the decision to end the program will have on the country, including the estimated loss of $460 billion and $25 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions. An earlier study by the Center for American Progress also estimated that the loss of DACA workers would reduce GDP by $433 billion over the next 10 years in the U.S. only.


The opposition to the Trump administration’s decision has stretched across the full political spectrum and all levels of government. Senator John McCain of Arizona said that, “President Trump’s decision to eliminate DACA is the wrong approach to immigration policy at a time when both sides of the aisle need to come together to reform our broken immigration system.” 

Senator Orrin Hatch, the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee also expressed his concern: “Over the coming months, I’ll be working closely with my colleagues in Congress and the administration to pass meaningful immigration reform that will secure our boarders, provide a workable path forward for the DREAMer population, and ensure that employers have access to the high-skilled workers they need to succeed in our technology- driven economy.”

Dianne Feinstein, the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated that, “[f]ailure to protect young people who have come out of the shadows would constitute an abject moral failure. DACA recipients registered with the government had background checks and paid taxes. They provide extensive documentation about their lives and put their trust in the government. We can’t respond by penalizing them.”

Andrew Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York, where an estimated 42,000 DACA recipients reside, stated that, “[i]f [President Trump] moves ahead… New York will sue to protect the ‘DREAMers’ and the state’s sovereign interest in the fair and equal application of the law.” 

Thus, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh defiantly stated at Boston City Hall that, “[i]f people want to live here, they’ll live here. They can use my office. They can use any office in this building” following President Trump’s announcement regarding tougher actions against undocumented immigrants.


To date, fifteen states and the District of Columbia have filed a joint lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York challenging the administration’s decision to terminate DACA. Washington, New York and Massachusetts, joined by Connecticut, New Mexico, Illinois, Hawaii, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Delaware, Iowa, Vermont, Virginia, Pennsylvania and D.C., allege that the decision violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the due process rights of DACA recipients, who provided the federal government their personal information with the understanding that it would not be used against them or their families.

In addition, California, a state where approximately 25 percent of DACA recipients reside filed a separate federal lawsuit on September 29, 2017 claiming that the decision disproportionately harms the state and its economy. Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that “California will sue the Trump administration over its termination of the DACA program for one simple reason. Our state has become the world’s sixth-largest economy due in part to the success of over 200,000 DREAMers whose livelihoods have been put at risk by President Trump’s wrong-headed decision on DACA.”


College and university campuses have also voiced their concerns over the elimination of the DACA program. College and university presidents from more than 700 public and private institutions have issued a joint statement calling for the DACA program to continue. The Ohio State University issued a letter on September 5, 2017 to the Ohio congressional delegation urging the elected officials “to take swift action to find a bipartisan decision that will, at the minimum, codify the existing DACA policy into law.” In a statement, Ohio State University pledged its plan to protect enrolled DACA and that “DACA students have overcome barriers, often against the odds, have been admitted to our competitive institution, and contribute greatly to our success.” 


With the deadline now set for March 5, 2018, the fate of the DACA program resides with Congress. Speaker Paul Ryan stated that, “[i]t is [his] hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.” 

Two potential legislative remedies currently exist in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who has sponsored DREAM Act legislation every year since 2001 when he first introduced the bill with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, two members of the Gang of Eight that authored the 2013 immigration reform proposal, have filed S.1615, the DREAM Act of 2017. California Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard has filed a similar bill in the House, H.R. 3440, DREAM Act of 2017.  Senators Thom Tillis of North Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma are also expected to introduce a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for some DACA recipients and would require such recipients to go through several rounds of background and security checks and a thorough medical exam.

While the magnitude of the impact of the DACA repeal still remains unknown, with the 2018 elections looming in the background, the attention will be focused on Congress to see if it can achieve a difficult compromise to protect DACA and the DREAMers.

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