The Supreme Court will decide whether or not to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, as early as Thursday. DACA is a United States immigration policy that grants undocumented children brought to the U.S. at a young age a renewable two-year permit that protects them from deportation and grants them the opportunity to work legally. KUNR’s Stephanie Serrano spoke with Michael Shamoon, an attorney with UNLV’s immigration clinic, about the future of this program.
Serrano: Michael, DACA was established eight years ago by the Obama administration, after the Dream Act, which was a proposal for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented folks that didn't pass. What are some misconceptions about DACA?
Shamoon: A lot of folks don't really understand what DACA does and doesn't do. So individuals with DACA don't have legal immigration status in the United States. DACA does not confer immigration status. Individuals with DACA are still technically considered undocumented. What DACA does give them is work authorization and protection from deportation. What that means is that the government acknowledges that individuals with DACA don't have permission to be in the United States, but they defer action on their cases. Meaning the government is promising 'we're not going to deport you, and we're going to allow you to work legally in the United States.' But it is not a pathway to a green card, and it is not a pathway toward citizenship. Individuals with DACA, once their DACA expires, if they don't renew, they go back to just being undocumented and unauthorized to work. That opens the door for the government to try and deport them.
Serrano: A little history here: The Trump administration rescinded DACA in 2017. Currently, people who have received DACA in the past can renew their application, but no new applicants are welcome. What is expected if the Supreme Court votes to end the program?
Shamoon: What will happen to all of the individuals who currently have DACA is once it expires, they won't be able to renew. As far as USCIS, which is United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, we don't know what their response is going to be to the Supreme Court decision. They could potentially say that they're going to give it a few weeks and still accept applications before they truly suspend the program. On the other hand, they could say that they're suspending it immediately, and they won't process any applications that are currently pending. Or they could just say, we're going to process pending applications, but we won't accept any applications going forward. So they have a lot of options as to what they can do as a government agency. All the Supreme Court is saying is whether Trump is allowed to get rid of it or not. The rest is up to USCIS and how they implement it, which is why it's so uncertain. We don't know what USCIS plans on doing.
Serrano: Michael, this decision has been looming over the heads of so many people. You work directly with these recipients. What are they feeling right now?
Shamoon: There's a lot of fear. There's a lot of panic. There's a lot of uncertainty, and understandably so, because for the last eight years, individuals with DACA have been able to come out of the shadows and start to flourish as members of our society as Americans. To just lose all of that overnight, it's overwhelming.
So for a lot of individuals with DACA, they attended college. They're all high school graduates because that was one of the requirements for DACA. After high school, they went to college [and] they pursued careers. So when you've been doing that for the last eight years and then all of a sudden, you're faced with the prospect of not being able to work legally, that's life-altering. And someone with a college degree, if they lose that ability to work, they might even consider leaving the United States altogether, going back to their country of origin if it's a place that's safe and if they speak the language. [They may] try to make a life elsewhere because they just don't feel safe here. They don't have that protection, and they don't have that employment authorization.
Other people are preparing to go back to life as being undocumented, kind of living in the shadows. It's really hard to live in the shadows when you've already come out of the shadows because now the government knows about you. The government knows everything about DACA applicants because when they applied for DACA, they provided all that information freely to the government. Their address history, really everything about them. It's really hard to live in the shadows when the government knows exactly who you are and where to find you.
Serrano: There are nearly 700,000 DACA recipients in the U.S. How are they contributing to our country?
Shamoon: There are a lot of nurses, a lot of lawyers, even some doctors. I would say DACA individuals are pretty diverse in the workforce, and they do specialized jobs. Most of their jobs require some kind of college education or even postgraduate education. DACA recipients are all ages. The program started out as a form of relief for childhood arrivals, but people grow up. So those childhood arrivals, a lot of them are now in their thirties. They're married [and] they have children. They're well into their careers. These are productive members of our society and have built their whole life in this country. Now they are looking at the possibility of having all of that be taken from them.