Protecting our Families, Neighbors, and Friends: The Fight to Preserve DACA

Thursday, September 29, 2022
Dear Colleagues:

Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed the governors of Texas, Florida, and Arizona sponsor the cruel and craven relocation of asylum seekers to New York, Martha’s Vineyard, and Washington, D.C. As I watched people in those receiving communities welcome these newcomers with generosity and resources, I reflected on the fundamental right to move freely. As described by the Immigrant Movement Visioning Process, the freedom to move means that “all people should have the freedom to move equitably and be welcomed,” and that “immigration should be a safe and empowering choice that is available to all, rather than an act of desperation.” And, just as migration is a natural part of the human experience, so too is the right for individuals, families, and communities to stay once they have migrated – to establish roots and belong in a place they call home.

Unfortunately, for nearly 700,000 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, their right to stay in the United States is more tenuous than it’s been in the ten years since DACA was created. If the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals deems DACA unlawful, nearly 700,000 individuals face losing the legal ability to live their lives as they have over the past decade. It would also mean the possibility that DACA recipients could be deported or separated from their families without new protections in place. That decision could come any day now.

In an important but limited attempt to protect DACA, the Biden administration published a final rule last month codifying existing DACA policy into regulation and finally moving the policy out of the shakier realm of agency memo. While the rule preserves deportation protections and work authorization for current DACA recipients, the program is still under immediate threat from the pending Fifth Circuit lawsuit, and additional legal challenges to the rule are anticipated. 

If the Fifth Circuit strikes down DACA as expected, an average of 5,000 DACA recipients each week for the next two years will lose their ability to work and will become vulnerable to deportation. Regardless of that decision, the outcome will inevitably be appealed to the Supreme Court. Depending on the timing, the Court could reach a decision in next year’s term. Were the Supreme Court to strike DACA down permanently – which is a real possibility – the resulting deportations would have devastating and lasting repercussions for DACA recipients and the communities they call home.

The fate of DACA hangs in the balance, and – though it will be no easy feat – Congress must pass permanent legislative protections for DACA recipients this year. Only a legislative fix can provide a fundamental and permanent solution. 

Immigrant justice movement leaders are using every available avenue to address this emergency, including legislative, litigation, narrative, and deportation defense strategies. They are preparing for the worst while fighting tirelessly for the best.

In this pivotal moment, immigrant justice advocates are:

  • Pushing for a legislative solution to ensure permanent protection for DACA recipients. While fighting to protect DACA, movement leaders are keeping their eyes on the broader goal: securing a pathway to citizenship for the many millions of undocumented individuals in this country. The uncertainty and fear faced by so many cannot be forgotten as we work to save DACA.  
  • Preparing for termination of the program. Advocates are engaging in state and local advocacy to help mitigate fallout from the potential end of DACA and are ready to help newly undocumented individuals obtain professional licenses, driver’s licenses, and tuition equity and – where those options don’t exist – to fight for them. They are also acknowledging the mental health toll that this loss will have on DACA holders, who are deeply rooted in their communities and who are often responsible for supporting their families and keeping businesses afloat. 
  • Pushing for changes to the new DACA rule. In the meantime, advocates are calling on the Biden administration to update the eligibility criteria for the program, which haven’t been changed since 2012 when the program was created. This means that current applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before 2007, were under 16 when they arrived, and were under 31 in June 2012. Most undocumented youth graduating high school today are ineligible for DACA. The rule as it is doesn’t allow any new DACA applications, narrowing its impact to the people currently enrolled in the program. 

Philanthropy must be a part of the fight both to protect DACA and to ensure we are prepared for its possible end. Funders can move resources now to groups on the front lines and can use their powerful institutional voices to urge a legislative solution and push for state-based expansions of protections and opportunities for DACA holders. Along with supporting legislative advocacy efforts, philanthropy must come together to determine how best to support those at risk of losing work authorization. To advance those efforts, GCIR will be holding a strategy session in November to engage funders in proactive thinking around how to respond to likely DACA termination.

When considering how best to support efforts to protect DACA while also preparing for a post-DACA landscape, funders should consider investing in organizations doing transformational organizing work along with those leading deportation defense campaigns at the local, state, and national levels.

Organizations addressing issues like professional licensing, access to driver’s licenses, tuition equity, and mental health impacts often lack the capacity to meet the demand they face. Those groups will likely see a sharp increase in demand for these services if hundreds of thousands of people suddenly find themselves without the rights and protections offered by DACA.

These strategies and others will be explored further at GCIR's DACA strategy session on November 9th led by GCIR’s Director of State and Local Programs, Cairo Mendes, and our Senior Director of National Programs, Kevin Douglas. I encourage you to join us so that we can co-create strategies, coordinate action, and align investments to support and defend the right of our DACAmented families, neighbors, and friends to stay and belong in the place they call home.

In solidarity,