DACA faces uncertainty despite sustained support for undocumented, DACA students

By JP Legarte, Investigative News & Longform Editor

When Lauren Aronson, professor in Law, first joined the University in the fall of 2019, she helped start the Immigration Law Clinic on campus, which is an initiative geared toward providing law students the opportunity to gain real-life experience through engaging in different cases.

The Immigration Law Clinic and other entities on campus provide services to DACA and undocumented students and community members as DACA faces uncertainty in the political realm.

Aronson provided an overview of how DACA policy has shifted ever since its inception in 2012 by the Obama Administration — a history that started with the desire to provide more opportunities to undocumented individuals.

To qualify for DACA, individuals must have entered the country before June 15, 2007 and before they turned 16, have five years of continuous presence since arrival, have graduated high school or been honorably dismissed from the military, been under 31 years of age when applying and have a relatively clean criminal record that is free of a DUI.

“At that time, lots of people obviously signed on for it,” Aronson said. “All that DACA gives you is deferred action, which is not a status, so you’re not in legal status when you have DACA. All you have is sort of a pseudo guarantee — which I say pseudo because everything is a little nebulous — that the government will not remove you from the country.”

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Aronson clarified that the government will not deport DACA individuals for two years so that during this deferred action, they would have opportunities to apply for work authorization. Authorization can lead to legal work, the ability to support family and an official social security number.

“So, these people who have DACA are contributing millions — probably more than that — of dollars to our social security system and to our tax system and are really getting zero benefit from that currently, which is, I’m sure for them, very frustrating,” Aronson said.

Aronson also mentioned that this level of contribution from people who have DACA has affected the entire American political spectrum.

“It’s also part of the reason that we have seen more bipartisan support for DACA,” Aronson said. “Even people who may not be the most pro-immigration recognize the contribution that these young people are making.”

However, Aronson said that despite bipartisan support, DACA still faces challenges as people continue to fight for DACA and what it has accomplished.

According to the latest development listed in open.illinois.edu, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is still not processing any initial DACA applications due to the July 2021 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

“There’s some litigation in the Fifth Circuit that will likely move up to the Supreme Court, which basically is trying to eliminate DACA completely,” Aronson said. “It’s expected to create a circuit split, which is why the Supreme Court will need to make a decision about it.”

Aronson acknowledges that the heavy conservative lean of the Supreme Court may be an obstacle regarding the future of DACA, but the bipartisan support might still be an important factor for consideration.

“However, again, DACA is very well supported by the public and does go across party lines,” Aronson said. “Even maybe this very conservative Supreme Court could come out in favor of DACA. It’s theoretically possible.”

When it comes to the services that the Immigration Law Clinic provides, Aronson said while not everything connects to DACA, students are able to gain a broad view of what the immigration process looks like and what work across the immigration spectrum might be.

“We always have several clients who are completely without authorization,” Aronson said. “We have clients who are in the middle of applying to change their lawful immigration status, and then we often have clients who are lawful permanent residents applying to be naturalized citizens.”

Beyond the immigration process, the Immigration Law Clinic also offers the service of renewing for DACA without requiring any fees to be paid other than ones already required by the government, such as the required $495 to renew the actual DACA.

“Historically, there have been funding sources for (University) students who are applying to renew their DACA so that they don’t have to pay that $495 fee,” Aronson said. “Right now, we’re working on seeing if we can negotiate a little more money for that because the student government had allocated a bunch of money, but then when the new student government came in that old allocation expired.”

Students who are interested in utilizing the Immigration Law Clinic’s service can call the clinic at 217-244-9494 or send a message to the clinic’s email: [email protected].

Gioconda Guerra Pérez, executive associate vice chancellor for Diversity, shared that students and other individuals can learn more about DACA developments, resources and University initiatives related to DACA by checking the open.illinois.edu website, the admissions.illinois.edu/apply/undocumented website and past Massmails as well as attending DACA briefings on campus.

Pérez also highlighted the collaborative effort it takes to ensure support for undocumented students is sustained, referencing different entities on campus who have contributed much of their time and energy.

“The support for students is through a holistic approach,” Pérez said. “We will not be able to do this without the support of La Casa Cultural Latina, without the support of immigration opinion and without the support of the other cultural centers … You will see that it’s several units working together to provide the resources.”

In addition, the open.illinois.edu website details a fall 2022 Ally Training session that will take place Friday from 1 – 4 p.m. in the iSchool Multipurpose Rooms on the fourth floor of 614 E. Daniel St. Registration is through go.illinois.edu/UndocuAlly.

When considering the makeup of undocumented students, Pérez warned of the danger of stereotyping certain groups as undocumented.

“It’s important that we recognize that it’s not just Hispanics or Latinos who are undocumented or DACAmented,” Pérez said. “(There are) students from all over the world that we are excited and happy to welcome because they are so brilliant.”

As she looked to the future, Pérez expressed the desire for more progress and change on both the institutional and state level.

“I think that there are probably more changes that we want to see,” Pérez said. “We want to continue to see what else we can do in the state of Illinois to be very welcoming and to see how our institution can continue to be very welcoming.”

When reflecting on the future of DACA, Aronson again highlighted the uncertainty with DACA within the political realm due to the relationship between both parties.

“I think that DACA is viewed as kind of a bargaining chip,” Aronson said. “Perhaps neither (party) wants to say, ‘OK, yeah. Let’s just do DACA — flat out do it.’ I think it’s like, ‘Well, let’s do DACA, but let’s also increase border security,’ or ‘Let’s do DACA, but let’s also make it easier for other immigrants to stay in the country.’”

Aronson emphasized that DACA should not be used as a bargaining chip within party negotiations or prerogatives and instead should be seen as a separate issue away from party lines.

“I would certainly hope that on an issue like this — it’s something that could sort of bust through the party lines or the conservative versus liberal or whatever, so that’s what I would hope for as the future of DACA,” Aronson said. “It’s gray. It’s not black and white.”


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