Revolution #279, September 2, 2012

Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals:
Dream or Nightmare for Undocumented Youth?

Tens of thousands of young immigrants without papers began lining up early Wednesday morning, August 15, at immigrant rights centers, attorneys’ offices, foreign consulates, and temporary counseling centers in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Miami, New York, Boston, and many other cities. It was the first day of implementation of President Obama’s executive action—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—and these immigrant youth were getting counseling and advice before mailing their request for deferred action to USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). What they are in fact doing is turning themselves, and any other members of their families who are also undocumented, in to federal immigration authorities, admitting that they are all undocumented. By doing so they are putting themselves on track for deportation, with a promise only that this deportation will be delayed for two years.

In some cases this will stop deportation proceedings in progress for those eligible. But there are no statistics, or estimates, of the percentage of the youth turning themselves and family members over for deportation who were not previously known by, or in the clutches of, federal authorities.

Those accepted for deferred action will be given temporary work permits, which will enable them to get temporary Social Security numbers. Some youth say that not having a Social Security number has kept them from accepting scholarships to universities, or getting financial aid, which can make the difference in whether or not they are able to go to college. In some states they may be able to get driver’s licenses. In Arizona, however, Governor Brewer immediately issued her own “executive order” denying state and local public benefits to young undocumented immigrants eligible for deferred action.

What is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?

First, this action by Obama does not abolish the threat of deportation, it only postpones it. This is not a law that has been passed, it is an executive action that can be revoked at any time on the word of (whoever is) the president. It puts deportation off for two years, with the possibility (not the promise) of renewing the deferral for another two years. But that renewal assumes the program will still be in effect.

Second, this action does not confer any legal status on these young people, or open a path to citizenship. But because those eligible for DACA are the same grouping of young immigrants who would have qualified for the proposed DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), many young people who’ve fought for passage of the DREAM Act are being misled into going along with and applying for DACA. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL) repeatedly appealed to “DREAM-eligible” youth to sign up for DACA in his August 14 statement, “Ten Reasons Young People Should Come Forward for Deferred Action.”

Third, it will not be easy to qualify for the program. An undocumented immigrant must

  1. Have come to the United States under the age of 16;
  2. Have lived continuously in the United States for at least five years before June 15, 2012, and been present in the United States on that date;
  3. Currently be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED certificate, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or other branch of the U.S. military;
  4. Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, and must not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
  5. Not be above the age of 30.

With inner-city schools that graduate fewer than half their high school students, and police who make sure these youth have criminal records as early as possible, how many inner-city youth don’t fit these criteria? Some newspapers estimate that 1.4 million undocumented young people in the U.S. between the ages of 16 and 31 could apply for this program, but only about 800,000 will qualify; 600,000 will be rejected. A criminal conviction (for shoplifting, for example) or a serious misdemeanor (like driving under the influence) or multiple misdemeanors will disqualify a person.

Applicants must prove that they have been in the U.S. for five continuous years. If they’ve been living “in the shadows,” it may not be easy to provide the financial, employment, medical and school records as proof. If an application is denied because the person submitting the application committed fraud (like using someone else’s social security number to get a job), then the applicant could be referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. If an application is denied for lack of proof, it’s not clear what will happen, but all the information the person provided is now in the USCIS database. There is no right to appeal a denied application and it’s not clear that USCIS has to give a reason.

Finally, what happens to the family members turned in by the person who applies to this program? The sisters and brothers; the mothers and/or fathers who brought the child illegally to the U.S. are very likely undocumented themselves. This DACA program will not apply to most of them. USCIS officials promise that they won’t turn over information from applications to ICE, but all the information will be in the USCIS database.

“An Elaborate Sting Operation?”

An opinion piece by immigration law attorney Eli M. Kantor, in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the newspaper for the legal profession in L.A., warns: “[W]hat will happen to all of the applicants who will be in the system? ICE will have their names and addresses in the system. Will they then be subject to deportation, once the ‘deferred action’ has ended? Will it all turn out to be an elaborate ‘sting operation’? The unintended consequence of this executive order may be that hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people will voluntarily turn themselves into ICE, in the hopes of legalizing their status, only to find themselves in the nightmare of deportation.” (July 11, 2012)

The undocumented won’t know until after they turn themselves in to Immigration, after they’ve given up all their information and shined a light on their families, whether they will be accepted into this program. USCIS says it will take months to determine whether a person qualifies.

There’s fundamental agreement within the ruling class that having over 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. poses an intractable problem and a strategic danger. These undocumented workers are deeply embedded in the economy and social fabric of the U.S. They labor in the fields, factories, hotels and restaurants, doing backbreaking and mind-numbing work for little pay, that is essential to the profitability of the companies that exploit them. But these same conditions raise worries that their allegiance to this country can’t be counted on in a crisis; and because their status requires them to “live in the shadows,” they have learned how to live “out of reach” of those who maintain “order.”

The two main approaches to dealing with this have been trying to fence off the border to slow undocumented immigrants from entering the U.S., and terrorizing those here with the constant fear of deportation. The Obama administration has deported a record number—almost 400,000—undocumented immigrants in the last year. Thousands more are locked up in hundreds of detention centers in brutal and unsanitary conditions.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a new tool that is enticing hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, voluntarily giving up all their information and information about family members in exchange for two years of freedom from deportation. The ruling class has a lot to gain and very little to lose from this deferred action.

While the main reaction to the deferred action program by those applying for it has been enthusiasm and support, there are, not far beneath the surface, serious doubts, misgivings and uncertainty. Some express hope that there is strength in the large numbers taking part; others believe that the movement of protests and other political actions they’ve waged around the country up to this point for passage of the DREAM Act can again be mobilized if promises are not kept. But the greatest danger is the illusion that Obama and the Democrats are “on their side”; and that the heart of their political activity now should be to work for Obama’s re-election.


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