Immigration advocates push Biden to not just bring back DACA but expand it

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is promising to reinstate an Obama-era program that shields deportation for some undocumented people who were brought to the United States by their parents when they were children.

But immigration advocates are pushing for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to not just be reaffirmed but expanded — and written into law. They view that as a minimum goal in immigration policy, with deportation protection for DACA recipients’ family members extended, as well.

“During the Trump administration, we’ve seen how fragile the program is and how easily it can be taken away,” said Krsna Avila, a staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. President Donald Trump tried to dismantle DACA, but earlier this year was thwarted by the Supreme Court. 

While the largest numbers of those enrolled in DACA live in California, Illinois and Texas, they are scattered across the nation. Some states with large numbers of DACA recipients include Florida, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada and Arizona, according to data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the 2016 Census. An estimated 51,500 youth in Arizona have enrolled in the program.

The DACA program was highlighted on Monday when Biden said he intends to nominate its architect, Alejandro Mayorkas, as his secretary of Homeland Security. 

Mayorkas during the Obama administration served as the leader of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and also as deputy director of DHS, which handles implementation and management of immigration policy.

“When I was very young, the United States provided my family and me a place of refuge. Now, I have been nominated to be the DHS Secretary and oversee the protection of all Americans and those who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones,” Mayorkas tweeted Monday.

If confirmed, Mayorkas would be the first Latino to run the department, as well as the first immigrant.

Trump target

The Obama administration created DACA in 2012. Those enrolled were protected from deportation and also allowed to obtain a temporary work permit and driver’s license, and qualify for in-state-tuition for higher education.

DACA, though, was a target for Trump, who rescinded the program in 2017, halting new applications and sending 700,000 recipients across the country into limbo. The Supreme Court in June ruled against the Trump administration, and a federal judge earlier this month ruled new administration rules on DACA are invalid.  That case and related ones are pending and more rulings are expected soon.

Trump’s sweeping actions on immigration during the last four years have pushed advocates and immigration lawyers to lobby the Biden-Harris transition team to not only reinstate DACA, but expand the program to include both recipients and their families. 

 Making those changes permanent through legislation, not just executive orders, would prevent uncertainty and an assault on immigration from happening again, advocates say.

“Status really controls your life,” said Madhuri Grewal, the federal immigration policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. For full story, go here.

Ariana Figueroa