When the Obama administration introduced the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) program in August 2012, it was meant to to be an important step toward achieving the overall goal of a more comprehensive immigration reform policy that would provide for a more permanent solution to the estimated 11 million immigrants and their children.
The first month after its introduction, more than 80,000 young immigrants between the ages of 16 and 31 applied for the chance to be authorized to work in the U.S. and have a two year reprieve from deportation. At the end of its first year, the DACA reached 455,000 participants. The program resulted in many DACA-eligible young adults obtaining licenses, getting new jobs and the chance to open a bank account.
However, as time passed by, fewer young immigrants took advantage of the opportunity and the feelings of hope and encouragement were replaced with a sobering realization that there was a gap between the dream for a brighter future and reality. The barriers to those dreams became more visible with participants not seeing the progress they were hoping for as many stumbled across some road blocks in pursuit of better economic opportunities and a sense of security.
One major hurdle has been the ability of participants to receive the higher education and training they need to find themselves in better economic positions. The lack of education and training may have to do with the fact that the DACA makes participants ineligible for financial aid or in-state tuition in every state as it is not a form of legal immigration status. In turn, many participants do not have the experience to go for higher paying positions and have to accept lower level positions.
According to a 2013 survey conducted by assistant professor Roberto G. Gonzales at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, 40 percent of those in the program have been unsuccessful in obtaining a job even after being given work permits.
The program also does not completely erase the stigma and fear the comes with having an illegal status as it doesn’t provide permanent legal status or citizenship and leaves participants vulnerable to being removed from the country at the discretion of prosecutors, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Though the program has provided some relief to those who have been living in fear of being deported, seeing family or friends being deported serves as a reminder that they can be taken away anytime. The survey conducted by Gonzales shows that 68 percent of participants know someone who has been deported.
Misinformation has also gotten in the way of many participants knowing what programs they are eligible for and what options they have available to them. For instance, a study released by the UCLA Labor Center reported that the DACA allows for participants to be eligible for Medi-Cal under state policy and for other state, county and private health programs. However, 37 percent of those who are DACA qualified do not have a customary source of health care. Those who are eligible are likely to remain uninsured because of the lack of awareness about their eligibility for coverage programs, see challenges in the enrollment process, or fear they can’t afford private coverage.
Though the program has transformed the lives of many young immigrants, it still sends the troubling message that they will have the help they need to build a better future, but that help will only get them so far. While it has it has done a decent job at opening doors for a number of individuals, it still has some work to do in regards on helping those individual walk through.