Amidst a pandemic and nationwide protests, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program take on added uncertainty as they anxiously await a decision that may determine whether they can continue to stay in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.
Created in 2012 under then-president Barack Obama, DACA provided deportation protection for roughly 650,000 young unauthorized immigrants, called “Dreamers,” who arrived in the U.S. as children.
Of California’s 200,000 DACA recipients, about 85,000 call Los Angeles home. Between 2012 and 2017, at least 4,655 Filipinos in the U.S. were granted DACA protections, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
In September 2017, President Donald Trump announced plans to rescind DACA, claiming that its adoption was unlawful and that courts did not have the power to review its decision. Several lower courts blocked his rescission, allowing the program to continue albeit on a less stable foundation.
Last fall, the White House brought the case to the Supreme Court, which is expected to make a decision anytime this month.
“Dreamers have been waiting anxiously to see whether the Supreme Court will [decide] to end the DACA program or allow DACA recipients to remain in the United States,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said on Wednesday, June 10.
As the U.S. faces the COVID-19 pandemic with over two million confirmed cases and over 116,000 deaths, Solis added that more than 200,000 DACA recipients nationwide have been serving as essential workers. At least 1,700 have been working directly in the health care sector.
The biggest question now is whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review the DACA decision and whether Trump’s basis for rescinding the program was lawful.
As it stands, Dreamer advocates say that it’s best to be prepared for the worst, but add that there’s still much that can be done to ensure Dreamers continue to pursue their goals and aspirations.
Daniel Sharp, chief at the Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs, said on Wednesday that even in the worst-case scenario, the vast majority of DACA holders are not in any imminent risk of deportation.
“Even if the Supreme Court allows this administration to end the program, there is a small percentage of DACA holders who have a final order of deportation from before they obtained DACA,” said Sharp.
Speaking at a virtual summit for Dreamers on Thursday, June 11, Sharp again said that deportations would likely not be immediate especially given the backlog of cases immigration courts have been experiencing even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, over 1.1 million people are awaiting their day in court, with 95,000 in Los Angeles alone. The 85,000 DACA holders would almost double the number of cases needed to be heard.
Sharp added that the vast majority of DACA holders have the right to see an immigration judge to fight their deportation case. He also strongly encouraged recipients to file their DACA renewal applications, even if expiration is not immediate.
“No one has a crystal ball,” said Sharp. “We don’t know what a decision will be until we see the decision.”
Protecting the DACA dream
The Los Angeles Office of Immigrant Affairs hosted a virtual Protect the Dream summit on Thursday to address the possible outcomes of the Supreme Court decision and to provide Dreamers with resources on how to protect their academic and professional goals, regardless of how the Supreme Court rules.
Entrepreneurship was something Dreamer advocates encouraged, given the drive undocumented individuals have shown in the past years.
In 2018, there were 808,199 counted undocumented entrepreneurs according to the New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization. That’s roughly 8% of the nation’s total undocumented population. In 2016, undocumented entrepreneurs generated about $15.2 billion in business income.
It’s worth noting that the actual count of undocumented entrepreneurs may be much higher given that many venture into landscaping, food sales, and street vending.
Immigrants Rising, an advocacy organization for undocumented youth, has been focusing on entrepreneurship by providing resources like webinars, entrepreneurship funds, and guides on how to successfully launch businesses. The organization recently launched an online training course on its new immigrant entrepreneurialism centered site, UndocuHustle.org.
Iliana G. Perez, director of research and entrepreneurship at Immigrants Rising, shared how she saw her parents — despite being immigrants — find livelihoods in each building their own small businesses.
“My dad worked as an employee doing landscaping for many years before realizing he could actually do it on his own and didn’t have to be working low wages for long hours. He could actually be his own boss,” said Perez.
She recalled her mom, also a small business owner, using language translation apps to interact with online customers.
“We’re so fortunate in the state of California and in LA, to have so many organizations that provide a lot of support in multiple languages,” said Perez.
Having been undocumented in the U.S. for 25 years and a DACA recipient herself, Perez too pursued working as an independent contractor in social media marketing and data analytics.
“There are lots of different ways to incorporate as a business,” said Perez. “This is a legal possibility for anyone, regardless of immigration status.”
Advocates also encouraged Dreamers and other undocumented individuals to go forth with pursuing higher education, highlighting the many resources available to them to help them achieve their academic goals.
“Our undocumented and DACA students are an integral and valued part of our student community,” said Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District. “These extraordinary and talented students have sacrificed hard work to better themselves, their families, their communities, and indeed this country.”
Within the community college district are nine Dream resources centers providing key services including mental health support, financial aid, legal support backed by a strong referral network, and a DACA/Immigration task force.
The University of California, Los Angeles has also dedicated resources at its Labor Center including its Dream Resource Center, Global Solidarity Project, and its Re:Work Institute for Worker Justice.
“It can be confusing with all these national policies changing and folks being confused on what they mean,” said Anthony Ng, director at the UCLA Labor Center and DREAM Resource Center.
“We want to make sure that immigrant communities are accessing these resources because they help improve the quality of life of our families, ourselves, and of our communities here in LA,” added Ng, who is also a DACA recipient.
With AB540, eligible undocumented students can pay in-state California tuition at public colleges and universities. This is in addition to the state’s free community college tuition for the first two years students attend full time.
Despite being unable to vote, undocumented youth have long been joining voices pushing for policy changes in the U.S. which advocates encourage more of.
United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the U.S., has been active in mobilizing undocumented immigrant youth to not only participate, but lead in legislative advocacy.
As thousands in the past couple weeks have taken to the streets and social media in support of black lives and against police brutality and systemic racism, so too have undocumented young people.
“We need to show up in solidarity with black folks, including black immigrants, against police brutality,” said Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, state and local policy manager at the organization, who is also a DACA recipient herself.
When it comes to DACA, United We Dream has been updating information on the impending decision and has been encouraging people to sign up for its day-of-decision webinar events that can be found on UnitedWeDream.org. Once the decision comes out, the organization said it would be ready to provide more content and information on what options are available.
With the presidential election fast coming in November, Macedo do Nascimento further encouraged undocumented youth to use their voice in events, advocate for local and state policies, and encourage those who can vote to do so whether in their social circles or through canvassing.
“We are in this country. This is our home. This is one way we can take care of it,” said Macedo do Nascimento.