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Word on the Beat: DACA

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Word on the Beat: DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

What it means: In 2012, the Obama administration unveiled a new immigration policy offering a path to temporary legal residency for individuals who had been brought illegally into the United States as children. An estimated 1.3 million teens and young adults under age 31 were given a route to stay in the country to work or attend school, for up to two-year renewable terms. To qualify, an individual had to either be in school or have graduated high school, with no record of serious criminal behavior. While DACA was a stopgap measure rather than a path to full citizenship (unlike the long-stalled DREAM Act), about 800,000 individuals have benefitted from its protections.

Why it matters: President Trump rescinded DACA in September 2017, giving Congress a six-month window to take action to restore the program. If the legislative standoff isn’t resolved by the March deadline, the program participants could face deportation when their permits expire.

Many college students are among these ranks — the left-leaning Migration Policy Institute estimates that nearly a quarter of a million DACA- eligible youth were enrolled in U.S. postsecondary institutions in 2014. Some higher education leaders have been vocal about the need to preserve the program, going so far as to establish so-called “sanctuary campuses,” although that is more symbolic support than a legal protection.

DACA participants also include public school teachers and staff. As Greg Toppo wrote for USA Today, “Nationwide, an estimated 20,000 DACA-eligible teachers — many of them possessing key Spanish-language skills that are in high demand — could be plucked from the classroom if the program is phased out.” Teach For America also has DACA recipients among its ranks, Reuters reported. “We could have teachers who are forced to leave their classes in the middle of the year,” Virdiana Carrizales, the managing director for TFA’s DACA initiative, told Reuters.

Who’s talking about it: Just about everyone. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) has alleged that during an Oval Office meeting to discuss immigration policy — including DACA – the president used profane language to describe some immigrant groups, including from African countries. On Monday, Trump took to Twitter to deny the claim. The fallout from that incident appears to have stalled the ongoing negotiations. Trump has also said he would not support DACA unless funding was provided to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But there has been some action amid all the talk: Late last week, the U.S. immigration agency announced that DACA participants could resume seeking renewals and that the program would continue to operate as it had prior to Trump’s rescision. That announcement followed a federal judge’s order protecting DACA’s operations during these interim months. In September, Vox reporter Dara Lind asked whether the personal information contained in DACA might be eventually used by the feds to deport immigrants. The conclusion: While a preemptive mass handover of the entire DACA rolls to Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is unlikely, that doesn’t mean the data might not be tapped at some point on a case-by-case basis if federal officials ask for it, Lind concluded.

Want to know more? The Pew Research Center is collecting key facts about DACA recipients. As of September, about 690,000 unauthorized immigrants were currently enrolled in the program. Roughly nine out of every 10 DACA recipients were born in Latin America, with the highest concentration in Mexico. Asia accounts for 3 percent of DACA recipients, followed by the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. And two-thirds of DACA recipients now reside in just 20 major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, N.J., Dallas, and Chicago. The Migration Policy Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, provides background on DACA recipients, including on workforce status and educational attainment. In a November policy brief, MPI reported that 18 percent of DACA recipients are enrolled in college, while another 20 percent are still in high school. And more than half of all DACA recipients are employed, according to MPI. 

At EWA’s fall Higher Education Seminar, we explored how journalists can effectively cover DREAMers during this turbulent period. You can read the write-up from that session here. (At the same event we also heard from Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist who “came out” as an undocumented immigrant in 2011.) And at our 2017 National Seminar, we discussed the mixed messages being sent to DREAMers as a result of the political turmoil. And Corey Mitchell of Education Week joined the EWA Radio podcast to discuss the potential fallout at the K-12 level if DACA comes to an end.

Have a question, comment or concern for the Educated Reporter? Contact Emily Richmond. Follow her on Twitter @EWAEmily.

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