October 27, 2017 by
Photography by Doug Meigs

As the November/December issue of Omaha Magazine went to press, the fate of DACA recipients remained in limbo.

An acronym for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” President Barack Obama created the federal program by executive memorandum in 2012 to grant work permits and deportation relief for two years on a renewable basis to foreign-born, undocumented youths who came to the U.S. as children.

President Donald Trump formally announced an end to DACA on the morning of Sept. 5. The transcript of his termination statement began with an explanation of his duty to “defend the American people and the Constitution of the United States of America,” followed by an admission, “I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents,” and an appeal “that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.” Future policy action and debate then fell to the discretion of the U.S. Congress.

Creighton University immigration law professor Charles “Shane” Ellison explains the nuts and bolts of DACA and what the program’s termination means for the future. Ellison is the legal director of the Nebraska chapter of Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska (a nonprofit legal advocacy funded in part by the Great Plains United Methodist Conference), and he offers free legal advice to immigrants and refugees at Creighton’s Milton R. Abrahamson Legal Clinic.

 

Prof. Charles “Shane” Ellison

Omaha Magazine: What is the background of DACA?

Prof. Ellison: Deferred action, or what used to be called “nonpriority status,” is the term used to classify noncitizens who, though legally removable from the U.S., are not an immigration enforcement priority to the federal government. There are approximately 11 million undocumented noncitizens within the U.S.

Congress has given resources to the Department of Homeland Security to remove an estimated 400,000 noncitizens a year. Thus, Homeland Security must decide how to utilize its limited resources to enforce the Immigration and Nationality Act. It could, for example, enforce the law against the first 400,000 removable noncitizens it encounters in a given year, it could do so randomly, or it could do so by setting and adhering to priorities. Deferred action is a tool used to help set those priorities.

The DACA program, created in June of 2012, is one iteration of the government’s long-standing practice of using deferred action as an enforcement tool. It reflected a judgment by the Obama administration that “dreamers”—young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, who have grown up here, gone to school here, and have clean records—should not be at the top of the list of individuals the government is seeking to deport.

The term “dreamers” refers to potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act (short for the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act”). Variations of the bill were introduced in Congress several times since 2001, but none have become law.

While the DACA program was created in 2012, the practice of using deferred action as a law-enforcement tool is far older. Indeed, the practice of granting deferred action has existed for more than four decades. Since at least 1981, deferred action (as a low-priority designation) has been referenced within federal regulations. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that deferred action falls within the purview of Homeland Security’s discretionary enforcement authority. DACA is simply a subset of that larger enforcement priority tool, called deferred action.

Who was eligible for DACA?

One could have requested DACA if he or she:

  • Was under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
  • Came to the United States prior to reaching his or her 16th birthday
  • Had continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007
  • Was physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making his or her request for deferred action
  • Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012
  • Was at least 15 years old (with only a few exceptions)
  • Was in school, had graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, had obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or was an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
  • Had not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and did not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

What is changing for DACA recipients?

Individuals whose DACA was set to expire between Sept. 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018, were allowed to seek renewal prior to Oct. 5, 2017. Apart from those who had already filed, everyone else lost their ability to seek renewal as of Sept. 5. Additionally, all individuals who would have become eligible to apply after Sept. 5 (e.g., all the kids who met the requirements but were not yet 15) are no longer eligible to apply. As early as March 6, 2018, DACA youth will begin losing their work authorization and protection from removal.

How might ending DACA impact the city, state, and national economy?

According to the Center for American Progress, eliminating DACA will cost $433.4 billion in lost GDP over the next 10 years and will reduce contributions to Social Security and Medicare by $24.6 billion over the same period. And that is to say nothing of the loss of moral authority that comes with targeting young people for actions over which they had no control. The economic loss to Nebraska is estimated at over $150 million. Omaha is where most DACA youth reside, so it will be hit the hardest by these losses.

What action do you suggest?

The most important thing we can do is contact our elected federal representatives and urge them to support the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act is the best legislative proposal to protect DACA youth/dreamers.

For DACA youth affected by this decision, Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska is committed—along with many other services providers in the metro—to offering legal assistance. We are encouraging those affected to contact the Nebraska Immigration Legal Assistance Hotline to seek help.

Visit nilah.org for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December issue of Omaha Magazine

Supporters of DACA gathered in South Omaha for a rally on Sept. 10.

After the Sept. 10 rally, critics of President Donald Trump’s decision to terminate DACA gathered for a photo.