Dreaming About DACA
A legislative proposal setting forth a process for granting residency status to qualifying immigrants who entered the US as minors has been under consideration by Congress since the turn of the century. The proposal, which is known as the DREAM (“Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors”) Act, and which would first grant conditional residency, followed by permanent residency upon meeting further qualifications, has never been able to pass both legislative chambers.
In light of such failure, the Obama Administration, in June of 2012, created and deployed, by Executive Branch memorandum, a non-congressionally authorized administrative program that permitted certain individuals who came to the United States as juveniles and met several other criteria to request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years (subject to renewal), and eligibility for work authorization. The main purpose of the program, known as DACA (“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”), is to protect eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children from deportation.
In 2017, the Trump Administration argued that DACA amounts to an improper circumvention of immigration laws and an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch. It thus went on to rescind the 2012 memo that established DACA, and to set forth a plan for the phasing out of the program. Three federal petitions challenging the validity of such action were consolidated, and the Supreme Court held oral arguments on the resulting case in November. In the aftermath of the hearing, the consensus seemed to be that the Court will find DACA to be unlawful, through a ruling likely to be issued later this spring.
Given such prospects, it behooves institutions of higher education, and particularly HSIs (“Hispanic Serving Institutions”), with significant populations of impacted individuals to consider and implement actions in support of such constituencies. Among the ways that campuses can assist DACA students and employees are (i) providing mental health assistance to address the emotional fallout from the expected decision, (ii) facilitating funding for renewal costs, attorney fees and other forms of relief, (iii) decoupling access and scholarship requirements from DACA status, and (iv) supporting professional licensure efforts of students and graduates.
An adverse decision for DACA may also renew legislative efforts towards long-term, comprehensive immigration reform. Advocating for such an outcome and/or lobbying a new administration for similar executive programs may also be areas in which colleges and universities can further the interests of their impacted communities and safeguard the value that they bring to their campuses.
The Office of Legal Affairs will work with other campus units to update the university community upon the issuance of a ruling or the emergence of any other significant development. In the meantime, any department/personnel wishing to consult or to obtain assistance in advance of such a ruling should feel free to reach out to the Office of Legal Affairs at their convenience.