By Greg Smith
From time to time since 2017, our immigration legal services program would get a call from a youth-age or young-adult immigrant asking, “Is it time yet? Can I apply for DACA?” Every time the question was asked, I would usually respond, “Have you ever had DACA?” and if the answer was no, my response was identical: “I’m sorry, but applying for DACA for the first time is not possible.”
All that changed with two court rulings in 2020. First, in June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the Trump Administration’s attempt to terminate DACA, which stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”
Initiated under the Obama Administration in 2012, DACA grants qualifying young immigrants the ability to work legally in the US and avoid immigration action against them for a period of 2 years, which can be renewed upon approval. The June 2020 Supreme Court decision allowed the government to begin accepting first-time DACA applications, which reversed a September 2017 Trump Administration decision.
Then, in December 2020, a U.S. district court in New York ordered the Trump Administration to begin accepting first-time DACA applications, something the administration had failed to do even after the earlier Supreme Court ruling.
DACA applicants and their advocates, like ourselves at LUCHA Ministries, jumped for joy. Once again, vulnerable young immigrants had a chance of working legally in the U.S. without fear of detention and deportation.
Founded in 2004, LUCHA Ministries has served the community through its Immigration Legal Services program since 2016. Our goal has been to meet the long-term need many have of legalizing their immigration status and fully adjusting themselves to life in the U.S. While continuing to provide short-term, emergency food assistance and family services support, we understood that an immigrant’s full immersion into a new culture required more long-term solutions. Immigration legal services is one way to help immigrants adjust to their new American home.
But of course, not everyone qualifies for legal services, even including immigrants brought to the U.S. as infants or young children. At least, they didn’t until the creation of the DACA program in 2012. And from September 2017 to December 2020, while prior DACA recipients could renew their work permits and legal shielding from deportation, those who had never had it could not. Since the December 2020 district court ruling, we’ve had a number of young immigrants contact us to start their DACA process.
But young DACA Dreamers – as they are sometimes called – are not out of the woods yet. A district court in Texas is even now considering a new lawsuit brought by the Trump Administration to end the program. If the court decides against it, once again Dreamers and their future will be put in limbo.
This issue may not touch you. Chances are, it doesn’t. But it does touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants across our country, some of whom you may have interacted with.
These are immigrants who attend or have graduated from our local schools, pay taxes, work in local factories and offices, and daily invest their lives in the only country they’ve ever known. In fact, around 30,000 frontline workers in this country fighting COVID-19 – workers such as physicians, nurses, lab technicians, home healthcare aides, and others – are DACA recipients.
And so many more potential healthcare workers want to be. No matter how the courts ultimately decide on the 2012 DACA program, let’s pledge to work hard in 2021 on behalf of immigrants who are working on behalf of us and our country.
Greg Smith is a CBF field personnel serving alongside his wife, Sue, among the Latino/a community in Fredericksburg, Va. Learn more about and support their work at http://www.cbf.net/smith.