The ruling by a federal court in Texas that the former US President Barack Obama exceeded his authority when he introduced a scheme to ensure that hundreds of people who were brought into the country illegally as children can continue to remain in America has again cast a cloud of uncertainty over the future of these so called ‘DREAMers’. President Joe Biden is a supporter of citizenship for this category of immigrants and his administration has said it’ll appeal the decision. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is DACA?
Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, as the name suggests, is a programme that promises to put off deportation for a specific category of people who are living in the US without valid papers.
To apply, a candidate must have entered the US without authorisation before their 16th birthday and lived continuously in the country since June 15, 2007, which is five years before Obama introduced the DACA programme by executive order.
Further, the applicants could not be aged over 31 years on June 15, 2012, that is, they must have been born on June 16, 1981 or after, if they want to apply for protection under DACA. Further, to apply, a candidate must be enrolled in high school or already have a diploma or specified academic qualification or have served in the armed forces.
The scheme shields people from deportation for two years at a time and applications can be renewed though it does not include any pathway to a US citizenship. However, those who enrol under DACA can get work permits and health insurance, which has allowed many of them to pursue studies in the country.
How Many People Have Used This Programme? Does It Include Those Of Indian Origin?
According to various reports, close to 800,000 people have taken advantage of the scheme with a total of up to 1.5 million people eligible to apply for DACA protection. The bulk of the applicants are from neighbouring Mexico although there are a thousands of Asian applicants, too.
The non-profit South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) said that till August 2018, there were “approximately 2,550 active Indian DACA recipients”. It added that “only 13 per cent of the overall 20,000 DACA eligible Indians have applied and received DACA”. In all, there were over 5,000 DACA recipients hailing from South Asia, SAALT said.
Why Are They Called DREAMers?
The people eligible to apply for DACA are also known as ‘DREAMers’ as a nod to a long-pending piece of legislation, called the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which Vox describes as “a recurring proposal to allow unauthorised immigrants who grew up in the US to gain legal status and eventually apply for citizenship”. However, this proposal never cleared the US after being introduced in 2001 and was finally buried in 2010.
What Happened Under Trump?
Obama’s successor, the Republican President Donald Trump, had in 2017 announced that his administration was ending the DACA programme. However, after years of appeals, during which time courts allowed renewals to continue, the matter was finally taken up by the US Supreme Court, which in 2020 blocked the Trump administration move in a 5-4 ruling. The court had ruled that “the administration failed to provide an adequate reason to justify ending the DACA programme”.
What Are The Likely Next Steps?
The federal court ruling does not imply that the US will have to start deporting DACA awardees though the judge said that no new applicants will be entertained. However, Democratic President Biden, who has promised legislation to provide a pathway to US citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US has said his administration will appeal the decision.
Describing the federal court ruling as “deeply disappointing”, a statement from the President said that “while the court’s order does not now affect current DACA recipients, this decision nonetheless relegates hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to an uncertain future”.
“The Department of Justice intends to appeal this decision in order to preserve and fortify DACA. And, as the court recognised, the Department of Homeland Security plans to issue a proposed rule concerning DACA in the near future,” the statement said.
But Biden noted that only the US Congress “can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for DREAMers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve”. But while Biden said he has “repeatedly called on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act”, it is widely held that Republican and Democrats are not on the same page when it comes to the issue of granting US citizenship to illegal immigrants.
Meanwhile, a report by Politico suggests that Democratic lawmakers may be looking to insert a route to citizenship for DREAMers and other undocumented US residents in an upcoming $3.5 trillion spending bill that could pass the Senate, or the US Congress’ upper house, with a simple majority without requiring any support from Republican lawmakers. However, reports say it is not certain that any immigration rules can be thus pushed through the Senate.