Immigration reform for Dreamers: The roulette game with DACA needs to end

As the government continues to ignore DACA, many are frustrated by the lack of action helping Dreamers.

With the presidential election right around the corner and immigration being the biggest issue of discussion, politicians will use whatever tricks they can to gain votes through empty promises. The biggest thing every single year that is used to sway votes is the conversation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.  

DACA allows undocumented youth who have lived in the U.S for five or more years, before turning 15-years-old, the ability to live in the U.S. with protection against deportation and eligibility to obtain a work permit and authorization. This program basically gives undocumented youth the same protection and similar rights that American Citizens have, hence why this program is usually looked down upon by conservative politicians and supported by liberal politicians.  

DACA has helped an estimated 835,000 undocumented youths obtain their dream careers without fear of deportation according to the data FWD.us collected in 2023, comparing it to the 2012 data when the program was first established. But sadly, even though Dreamers have shown that they care about this nation through their work and how the program helps them achieve greatness, the government lets the program stay on the fence of either being ignored or to be eliminated no matter what political party is in control.  

This past year on September 13, 2023, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Texas ruled the 2021 DACA Final Rule to be unlawful. This has caused DACA to enter a twisted game of roulette once again to see if the program will continue or to be terminated, for it is currently being reviewed by 5 circuits. It is unknown when the final decision will be announced.  

Due to being in review, Judge Hanen ruled that no new applicants can apply for DACA, but the current recipients of the program are safe and still get to maintain the protection and rights, as NPR reported. Current DACA recipients are safe until the legal review ends or until the Democratic party does something to help DACA like they promised. But youths that have or are turning 15-years-old and have lived only in the U.S since June 15, 2007, this year can’t sign up to gain the protection thanks Judge Hanen’s ruling.  

Sadly, this isn’t the first time Dreamers face an uncertain future. This has happened multiple times in the past, especially with the Trump administration, as National Immigrant Forum recalls. Ex-president Trump tried to eradicate DACA many times even during the pandemic, but it was saved by Chief Justice John Roberts, who told the Trump Administration that they failed in providing a good reason to end the program. During that time, according to the data from the 2018 American Community Survey Census, the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) estimates that 43,500 Dreamers work in the health care and/or social assistance industries. More specifically, 10,300 work in hospitals and 2,000 in nursing care facilities across the nation.  

Not only were Dreamers on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic in medical centers, but also on the frontlines when it came to transportation, warehouse management, supermarkets, support and waste management services along with so many other jobs according to CMS. Many had to juggle school at the same time, and Trump wanted to take away the program that was allowing them to help the country stay standing. This shows that DACA is trapped in a constant game of roulette to see if it will be disbanded or not with every administration, even in times that Dreamers are helping the survival of the nation in disparate times. 

Most importantly, I find it unfair that they haven’t been rewarded for the great job they did in helping the country handle the pandemic. What they did was patriotic, for they could’ve easily stepedp back and rejected the call for help from the nation that hasn’t been treated them well. Yet many Dreamers answered the call and risked their lives in helping the country stay strong against the pandemic. The least the government could’ve done was reward them by stabilizing DACA or providing them a path to at least residency. But here we are, still with nothing but threats of moving backwards instead of forward.  

This game of roulette the government plays with DACA leaves many Dreamers and their families on edge for not knowing what will become of their future and safety in the country. The way DACA has been treated feels like a violation of human rights, which UWT professor Dr. Sonia Del La Cruz confirms. Ever since her undergrad, Dr. De La Cruz has been studying and working with a variety of issues in human rights and labor rights, specifically in community engagement and social justice. Her studies are focused on immigration, which has led her to be involved with DACA.  

She explains that DACA is a human rights issue because, although the temporary program allows youths a limited set of activities in their lives, it prevents them from entering many fields in the labor industry, due to being trapped in uncertainty of their immigration status thanks to the lengthy, confusing and constantly changing process. 

“It prevents people from living their lives with dignity,” Dr. De La Cruz said. “This includes working and contributing to their communities, homes, and lives in places they find themselves. Citizenship binds us to where we live.”  

She continues by explaining that the idea of citizenship binds us to our rights and responsibilities to a place. DACA is in fact a small attempt in providing a clear path to citizenship, but the fact the government continues to throw DACA around still prevents people from living their full lives. The lack of clarity has allowed state governments to enact laws that are creating more obstacles that prevent people from living their lives in peace, toying with them.  

“It’s kind of like a steep up hill, you’re trying to get to the top but somebody is throwing rocks at you to slow you down,” said Dr. De La Cruz. “How many roadblocks do people have to face in order to find a place they can live in peace and find themselves emotionally, psychologically, and literally?”  

This unclear path of citizenship is something UWT alum of class of 2018 with cum laude honor Steffany Duran also points out. Duran has had DACA since the program was instated back in 2012. During her time at UWT the program helped her be lawfully employed to help her pay for tuition and obtain financial aid through Washington’s WASFA. The program helped her obtain her job at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.  

However, that doesn’t take away the fact that she is frustrated with the program’s handling. She tells The Ledger that she is constantly thinking about how negatively impacted her life would become if the government were to eliminate the program. She would lose her job and her BA in Psychology would mean nothing, even if she returns to get a Masters. The domino effect of losing the program would also cause her to lose the ability to pay rent and prevent her from growing in her career. 

“I absolutely abhor being used as a pawn in politician’s plans,” said Duran. “While I am grateful for this program, though it could also be much better with a pathway to naturalization/citizenship, it is incredibly stressful that the security of DACA is constantly being threatened. Politicians love to use DACA as something to gain the vote from the people they seek as if it’s not real people’s lives and livelihoods that they are speaking on.” 

This feeling of not having their lives and livelihoods seen by the government is something many current UWT Dreamers feel. One of these Dreamers, a UWT senior, spoke to me about how she feels. She has had DACA for two years, and although the program has opened more doors for her,  she can’t help but feel frustrated and angry about how the program is being treated, causing her to lose faith in the promise of immigration reform. The treatment the program receives, especially currently, has only made her anxious due to the possibility of losing her protection from deportation. It makes her feel unsafe at school due Tacoma Northwest Detention Center being close to campus–a six-minute drive to be exact.  

“I don’t understand why the program needs to be thrown around constantly,” said this UWT Dreamer. “The government doesn’t realize those are our lives their handling. We can’t live peacefully like everyone else!”  

Both Dreamers implore the government to stop toying with their lives and emotions by keeping DACA in limbo. They want to remind the government that they, like others, were brought to the U.S. as infants or children by their families who were either escaping violence of their homeland or seeking a better future for their family. As children, they didn’t make the choice to come to the U.S and stay. They wish to live their lives to the fullest without fear of what tomorrow could bring to them if DACA is terminated. They want to grow in their careers and explore the world without fearing that their wings will be clipped without warning. They ask the U.S. government and the judges reviewing DACA right now to help them by creating a pathway to naturalization if not citizenship. Dr. De La Cruz implores a clear path to citizenship that is easy to understand with no yearly changes. By doing so, not only will the U.S. be helping Dreamers obtain their dreams of living normal lives, but also will be benefitting the country’s economy as Duran points out.  

“See us, understand us and help us,” concluded the current UWT Dreamer.  

It may not seem much, but I hope this article is a step in the right direction, even if it is a drop in a still ocean. But in the end a ripple can still make a difference. To any Dreamer reading this article, I hope you know that there are those who haven’t forgotten you and are still fighting to help you.