Nw Delhi: US Vice President Kamala Harris called upon Congress Tuesday to create “a pathway to citizenship” for millions of immigrants under the Obama-era policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The DACA applies to illegal immigrants who came to the US as children, stayed in school or enlisted in the military. It also provides them a work permit, if they meet certain requirements.
DACA recipients are often referred to as Dreamers, after a similar piece of legislation called the Dream Act introduced in 2001 but never passed in law.
Speaking at a meeting with immigrant care workers Tuesday, Harris said: “Even with DACA in place, we know that Dreamers live in a constant state of fear about their status and about their future.” Her remarks come exactly nine years since DACA was introduced in 2012.
About 3,000 immigrants from India had applied for the benefit during the first 17 months of DACA, and roughly 2,500 were benefitted in some way or the other by July 2014, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute.
While the Donald Trump administration had sought to dismantle the DACA program, President Joe Biden signed an executive order preserving it on his first day of office this year.
If the Congress takes DACA one step further by creating a path for citizenship, it could benefit 103 lakh illegal immigrants in the US, out of which 5.87 lakh are of Indian origin.
What is DACA?
Former President Barack Obama created the DACA program in 2012 as a “stopgap” measure to shield young immigrants from deportation.
The policy allowed people younger than 30 who came to the US before the age of 16, posed no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military, to get a two-year deferral from deportation. Those who were able to prove they have been living in the US for at least five years were allowed to apply for work permits as well.
“This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix,” Obama had said at the time amid an onslaught of criticism from Republican lawmakers.
Nine years later, Biden, who was the VP during Obama presidency, is promising the group of people a road to citizenship.
On his first day in the Oval Office, Biden signed a presidential action to “preserve and fortify” DACA. A key aspect of his ambitious immigration plan, which continues to be deliberated in Congress, is to give about 11 million illegal immigrants an eight-year path to become citizens.
In his campaign plan last year, Biden had also promised to ensure Dreamers are eligible for federal student aid.
In 2017, the Trump administration terminated DACA, with the then attorney general Jeff Sessions declaring the program “unconstitutional”. Sessions had claimed the policy was implemented “unilaterally” after the Congress repeatedly “rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits” to such immigrants.
In 2020, the Trump administration planned to end the policy permanently but a Supreme Court ruling restored it.
How does DACA benefit illegal Indian immigrants?
The report by the Migration Policy Institute found that during the first 17 months of DACA, about 3,000 immigrants from India applied for the benefit. By July 2014, roughly 2,500 unauthorised Indian-born young adults were granted a work permit and a temporary reprieve from deportation as DACA beneficiaries.
However, recent numbers paint a different picture. As of March 2020, only 2,220 Indian-born individuals were among the 6,43,600 active participants, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data.
In 2015, Obama invited six undocumented students or Dreamers to the White House to hear directly from them as to how DACA has positively affected their lives. One among them was Indian-origin Rishi Singh, who currently works with an organisation called DRUM that assists low-wage South Asian and Indo-Caribbean immigrant workers and youth in New York City.
In an interview after his White House visit, Singh said: “He [Obama] thanked us for the work we’ve been doing…He told us that we have to continue to work with our communities to make sure that people come out and apply for these programs.”