One year ago today, USCIS launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA provides, for two years, suspension of deportation and work authorization for certain individuals who came to the U.S. as children. Since the program was implemented, more than a half a million young adults have applied. CLINIC affiliates have been instrumental in assisting the immigrant community with this new process. In fact, a recent survey of CLINIC affiliates revealed that 88% of respondents—153 programs—provide DACA services in their communities, often in more than one location.
From the moment the program was announced, CLINIC began training and providing support to affiliates serving low-income DACA-eligible youth. We continue to do so; an upcoming webinar will explore ways that we can continue to improve DACA-related services and where additional outreach is needed. In addition, in September CLINIC will launch a series of English- and Spanish-language radio public service announcements that will be sent to 500 radio stations nationwide, letting the many DACA-eligible youth who have not yet applied know where to find high quality, affordable legal services.
Earlier this year, CLINIC was pleased to offer financial support to DACA applicants through mini-grants to 62 affiliates thanks to a grant from Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Although the amount of funding per affiliate was small, ranging from $1,180 - $2,000, the impact on immigrant youth was life-changing. Our affiliates, many of whom used the funding to pay their client’s application fees, spoke of families saving for months or having to pick and choose among children to apply for DACA because of the cost of the applications. We received many moving letters from the beneficiaries of the mini-grants – people who will become engineers, nurses, attorneys, and members of the Armed Forces and who credited DACA with allowing them to pursue these goals. One young adult said that before receiving DACA he had “graduated from college, but because he had no ‘papers’ he felt that he had met the end of the road.” Now that he has work authorization, he has been able to put his education to good use at a chemical plant.
DACA is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. It is not permanent. It is not a path to citizenship. Our choice as a nation is simple: do we fully utilize the talents and passions of every man and woman living in our country? Or, do we tell them that the road ends soon?
Jeanne M. Atkinson is the Executive Director of CLINIC.