Demystifying DACA and the DREAM Act

This fall, President Trump announced his intentions to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a stay from deportation for children under the age of 16 who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.

In response, Jordan Feyerherm, project organizer for the Center for Rural Affairs, recently discussed the impact of DACA with John White on the Rural Matters podcast.

“Typical DACA students came to the U.S. when they were, on average, around 6 years old; they went to school, made friends, and grew up just like other American children,” Feyerherm said. “The only difference was they didn't technically have citizenship in this country, which is why the DACA program was introduced; to let them continue working and living in this country.”

In order to stay in the U.S., DACA recipients must have a high school diploma and pursue higher education or enlist in the military. These individuals are now around 25 years old, are in school or have graduated recently, and are starting a family.

What are the differences between DACA and the DREAM Act?

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was introduced around the same time as DACA, and was enacted through executive order. It offers a permanent pathway to citizenship for people who came into this country as minors.

Congress is now considering the DREAM Act. If passed, DREAMers are allowed to stay in the country and work for two years. They would then get conditional status to be in the country, leading them to permanent residency or obtaining a green card, ultimately allowing them to become citizens.

“Even if the DREAM Act is passed, the process to become a citizen will be a long one,” Feyerherm said.

DACA, on the other hand, has no permanent pathway to citizenship; it’s a two-year period when individuals are exempt from deportation. Every DACA recipient receives a two-year work permit, which must be renewed every two years. Many requirements exist to renew, and applicants pay a $495 fee.

“The two-year period can be renewed, but it’s a very temporary situation which has led to a lot of uncertainty,” Feyerherm said.“DACA, on the other hand, simply gives these individuals the right to work, and has no pathway to citizenship.”

Some states have passed laws similar to the DREAM Act that allow DACA recipients to attend universities with in-state tuition. Nebraska is one state that allows this, and offers DACA recipients an opportunity to receive a driver's licence.

“States are providing these individuals with ways to operate in day-to-day life by having identification, and being able to drive and get to work,” Feyerherm said.

Who are the typical DACA recipients, and how do they impact rural America?

The majority of DACA recipients are professionals in their communities. In 2015, DACA recipients were making $17 per hour, on average. After DACA was passed, recipients saw their hourly wages increase by 42 percent; 6 percent started their own business; 21 percent purchased a car; 12 percent purchased a home; and 90 percent received a driver's license or state ID.

“By giving these people more access to the things that we, as citizens, take for granted, they’re able to greatly improve their lives, and therefore the community they live in,” Feyerherm said.

Since the 1990s, many small towns have experienced a population shift; a drain of population from small towns to bigger cities. Some small towns have reversed that trend by welcoming immigrants.

“Because of DACA, stability has been provided, and these people now have the ability to put down significant roots in small towns by starting businesses, working, and expanding the local economy,” Feyerherm said.

During a 10-year period, immigrants, including DACA recipients, have had an impressive impact on states like Nebraska. The Midwest state has had an average increase in residents’ earnings by $378 billion, and 100 jobs have been created.

“The mayor of Schuyler has said that if it wasn’t for Latinos, Schuyler would be a ghost town,” Feyerherm said. “That’s a community that’s now about 50 percent Hispanic.”

Other areas in Nebraska are experiencing similar growth.

“There was a resolution introduced earlier this year that called for the state legislature to oppose any federal action that would negatively impact DACA recipients,” Feyerherm said. “The mayor of Crete testified in support. Crete has seen a positive impact from DACA recipients on communities.”

What will become of DACA and the DREAM Act?

Along with aforementioned challenges, DACA recipients are faced with a new set of issues due to the President’s plan to phase out the program.

New applications are not being accepted into the program. Many immigration attorneys will recommend that people should not apply for DACA status. People who currently have DACA status had until Oct. 5 to renew, which would have given them another two years.

Feyerherm hopes to see the DREAM Act passed, though it may take time. A new act, called the SUCCEED Act, has been introduced by Republican lawmakers. This act would provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, however it’s much stricter. SUCCEED would require 15 years to gain citizenship, as well as extreme vetting, which would reduce the amount of DACA recipients who would be able to apply.

Common misconceptions about DACA

Feyerherm dispels some myths about DACA recipients and immigrants in general.

Myth: DACA incentivises legal immigration.
Truth: DACA only applies to people who entered the U.S. under the age of 16, more than a decade ago. It was never intended to be available to people who entered the country without documentation after 2007.

Myth: DACA recipients don’t pay taxes.
Truth: Every time people make purchases, they pay sales tax. Employers withhold income tax.

Myth: Undocumented immigrants can access Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, as well as Social Security and other types of welfare benefits.
Truth: They pay into those systems, but can’t receive any of the benefits.

Myth: People with DACA status can attend college or university for free.
Truth: In many cases, this is the opposite. Some DACA recipients are charged international student rates, which are the most expensive college tuition rates. Others will receive out-of-state rates, and there are a few universities that will give in-state rates. Recipients are not eligible for financial aid; they’re not eligible for any type of federal grants or loans to help them go to college. The only type of scholarships they can pursue are privately funded.

Listen to the podcast

You can listen to the episode here:

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Pictured: Hastings, Nebraska, is just one community where Center for Rural Affairs staff members promote inclusion by hosting leadership trainings that focus on growth, diversity, and demographics. | Photo by Rhea Landholm