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Word on the Beat No. 2: DACA

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Word on the Beat No. 2: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

What it means: DACA represents the Obama administration’s aggressive attempt to overhaul the nation’s policies toward undocumented immigrants. For an estimated 1.7 million teens and young adults under age 31, DACA offers a potential means of staying legally in the United States to work or attend school, for up to two years. In order to qualify, the individual must either be in school or have graduated high school, and have no record of serious criminal behavior.

Why it matters: This year’s presidential election results showed Latino voter turnout reached record levels. As a result, immigration issues will almost certainly be at the forefront of the national policy debate in coming months. Interestingly, a number of Republicans – including some high-profile pundits – have reversed their long-held positions opposing routes to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

Who’s talking about it: Students, young adults, policymakers and educators. While DACA is a stopgap measure rather than a path to citizenship (unlike the long-stalled Dream Act) it could still have profound implications for multiple generations of families. DACA does not include eligibility for federal financial aid. However, it could still produce a new stream of higher education students for the nation’s colleges and universities. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently announced that students who are approved for DACA will be eligible for reduced tuition at state colleges and universities.

A 19-year-old native of Brazil, who has been struggling to pay for classes at Massachusetts Bay Community College where his tuition is twice the rate of in-state residents, told the Boston Globe that “My life is about to get a lot better, just the fact that I can go to college in peace.”

When DACA was announced over the summer, there were plenty of news stories of young adults who were holding off on submitting applications until after the presidential election. Some individuals expressed concerns that if Republican nominee Mitt Romney won, the applications would be converted into a roster of illegal immigrants targeted for deportation. With Obama re-elected, immigration officials are bracing for a wave of new inquiries.

Hiroko Kusuda, an assistant clinic professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, told the Washington Post that she had been advising clients to hold off on applying for DACA until after the election. She is now encouraging them to move forward, in part because “Republicans have changed their minds; they have decided that immigrants are a very important part of their constituency.”

Want to know more? As of Nov. 15, a total of 298,834 DACA requests had been filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, with 53,273 already approved. The top 10 states generating DACA requests are California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia and Virginia. The most common countries of origin were Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Peru. Interestingly, South Korea came in at No. 6. (The federal website explaining DACA offers answers to FAQ in Korean.)

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