Immigration attorney David Bennion spoke about the U.S. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in a presentation at the school on Sept. 12 hosted by the American Constitution Society.
DACA provides that undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children could avoid deportation and be eligible for work authorization, for a period of two years, if they meet certain criteria as established by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Bennion said.
Bennion explained that DACA was the Obama administration's response to the enormous efforts of community activists and organizations that protested the increasing number of deportations of immigrant youth, many of whom were raised and educated in the U.S. but could not pursue work without proper documentation.
Despite the benefits of DACA, Bennion said that many undocumented immigrants have been reluctant to apply. However, Bennion claimed that the risks of not applying to the program are greater than applying as deportation regulations have been strictly enforced over the last several years resulting in an increasingly high number of deportations. With DACA, immigrants can pursue work opportunities or schooling with a lesser risk of deportation so long as they maintain the minimum requirements proscribed by the program, he added.
Bennion argued that DACA is not a permanent solution to a "very aggressive" U.S. deportation policy but, rather, a "watered down" version of the proposed, but stagnant, Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (the Dream Act).
The Dream Act, first proposed in 2001, would grant conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented residents of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the U.S. as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment, he said. However, given the "highly politicized " nature of U.S. immigration policy, it is unlikely that the Dream Act will gain any traction in Congress anytime soon. Therefore, in the meantime, undocumented immigrants would be wise to take advantage of DACA, Bennion concluded.