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Immigration advocates reflect on DACA impact after 10 years

Today marks the ten-year anniversary of DACA. The program has provided protection from deportation to more than 800,000 undocumented people who were brought to the U.S. as children. KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis looks back at the program’s impact and shortcomings.

On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which became known as DACA.

The program was supposed to be a stop-gap measure while Obama and congressional leaders hammered out comprehensive immigration reform. But 10 years later, DACA remains and is both a beacon of hope and symbol of failure for immigration advocates.

Specifically, DACA grants deportation protection to undocumented migrants who were brought to the United States as children. It also gives them a social security number and a work permit.

At one point the U.S. was home to 800,000 Dreamers, as DACA recipients are known. Now they number about 650,000 nationwide, with approximately 11,000 in San Diego.

For many it has been a game changer, a chance to start families and build careers.
“People are able to provide for their own families in their own way that’s legal and without fear of doing something wrong,” said Hector Oviedo, of Alliance San Diego. “That has been huge and life changing for a lot of people.”

But the reform that DACA was supposed to lay the foundation for hasn’t come. In fact it seems farther away. Former President Donald Trump tried to end the program; and despite having control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Democrats have made no progress during the past two years.

“When the Biden administration came in, with the promises that they made, we really thought that by this point there would be more concrete action taken on the DACA program and overall immigration reform,” Oviedo said.

DACA recipients represent less than 10% of the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.

“It’s really not the solution we want, it never has been,” Oviedo said. “It’s like a band-aid solution to a bigger problem because DACA recipients themselves are not the only undocumented population in this country.

Life became more uncertain for would-be Dreamers last year when a federal judge in Texas ruled DACA to be unlawful. The judge allowed anyone who obtained DACA on or before July 16, 2021 to renew their status. However, the judge’s ruling prevents new applicants from applying for the program.

The Biden administration appealed that judge’s ruling and that case is expected to be heard before a federal appeals court later this year.

In the meantime, Alliance San Diego has a list of about 50 people who are eligible for DACA but currently unable to enroll. Those people were either too young to enroll in the program before the federal lawsuit or simply hadn’t gotten around to it, Oviedo said.

Oviedo remains hopeful. He said those applications are ready to be submitted if the federal judge’s decision is overturned.

  • The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was initiated by President Barack Obama in 2012. But it was not supposed to last this long. Permanent immigration reform is still out of reach and the futures of DACA recipients remain uncertain.