DACA: No Longer Young, ‘Dreamers’ Watch Uncomfortably Legal Challenge

LOS ANGELES — When Juliana Macedo do Nascimento enrolled in an Obama-era program to protect immigrants who came to the country as young children from deportation, she enrolled at California State University in Los Angeles and transitioned from jobs to in the areas of household, child care, car repair and a construction company.

Now, a decade later, at the age of 36, she has graduated from Princeton University and works in Washington as the associate director of advocacy for United We Dream, a national group.

“Dreamers” like Macedo do Nascimento, long a symbol of immigrant youth, are increasingly reaching middle age as eligibility requirements have been frozen since 2012, when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was introduced.

The oldest recipients were in their early 30s when DACA began and are in their early 40s today. At the same time, fewer people turning 16 can meet the requirement of having been in the United States continuously since June 2007.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, the median age of a DACA recipient in March was 28.2 years, up from 23.8 years in September 2017. About 40% are 30 years or older, according to fwd.us, a group that supports DACA.

With fewer beneficiaries and court orders closing new applications since July 2021, the number of DACA recipients dropped to just over 600,000 at the end of March, according to government figures.

The beneficiaries have become homeowners and married. Many have children with US citizens.

“DACA is not for young people,” said Macedo do Nascimento. “You don’t even have a right to it anymore. We are well into middle age.”

Born out of President Barack Obama’s frustration with Congress’ failure to reach agreement on immigration reform, DACA was intended to be a temporary solution, and many saw it as imperfect from the start. Immigration advocates were disappointed that the policy did not provide a path to citizenship and warned that the need to renew the program every two years would shake many. Opponents, including many Republicans, saw Obama’s policy as legal hyperbole and criticized it for rewarding people who violated immigration laws.

In a move aimed at protecting DACA from legal challenges, on Aug. 24 the Biden administration released a 453-page rule that closely follows the DACA, which was introduced in 2012. She codified the DACA as regulation by subjecting it to potential changes after extensive public comment.

DACA supporters welcomed the regulation but were disappointed that the age eligibility remained unchanged.

The rule is “a missed opportunity,” said Karen Tumlin, attorney and director of the Justice Action Center. DACA, she said, is “time-bound, like a fossil preserved in amber.”

The government considered expanding age eligibility but decided against it, said Ur Jaddou, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which administers the program.

“The President said to us, ‘How do we preserve and strengthen DACA? How do we ensure the security of the program and what is the best way to do it?’ and that was the decision that was made after much thought and careful consideration,” Jaddou said Monday in Los Angeles.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering a challenge to DACA from Texas and eight other states, asked both sides to explain how the new rule affects the legal status of the program.

Texas said in a court filing Thursday the rule couldn’t save DACA. The states acknowledged that it’s similar to the 2012 memo that gave rise to the program, but that they “share many of the same shortcomings.”

The executive branch has “neither the authority to decide the most important issues addressed by DACA nor the authority to grant substantial immigration benefits,” the states wrote.

The Justice Department argued that the new rule — “essentially identical” to the original program — invalidates the argument that the administration failed to follow federal rulemaking procedures.

DACA has been closed to new enrollments since July 2021 while the case weaves through the New Orleans Circuit Court of Appeals, but two-year extensions are allowed.

The uncertainty surrounding DACA has created anxiety and frustration among elderly recipients.

Pamela Chomba, 32, came with her family from Peru at the age of 11 and settled in New Jersey. She worries about losing her job and missing out on mortgage payments if DACA is made illegal. She put off becoming a mother because she doesn’t know if she can stay in the US and doesn’t want to be a burden to her children.

“We’re people with lives and plans, and we really just want to make sure we can feel safe,” said Chomba, head of state immigration campaigns for fwd.us.

Macedo do Nascimento was 14 years old when she arrived with her family from Brazil in 2001. She hasn’t seen a brother return to Brazil just before DACA was announced in 10 years. International travel under DACA is severely restricted.

Like Biden and many DACA advocates, she believes legislation is the answer.

“Congress is the ultimate solution here,” she said. “(Both parties) keep passing the ball to each other.

The uncertainty took her, the eldest of three siblings, with her.

“The fear of deportation has returned,” says Macedo do Nascimento, because “you never know when this policy will end.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc7.com/daca-deferred-action-for-childhood-arrivals-obama-immigration-reform/12196747/ DACA: No Longer Young, ‘Dreamers’ Watch Uncomfortably Legal Challenge

Laura Coffey

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