Updated: September 7, 2017 4:55:28 pm
US President Donald Trump rescinded DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, which was instituted under the Obama administration on Tuesday, September 5. The programme provided foreign-born men and women who illegally arrived in the US before age 16, provided they met some conditions, relief from the threat of deportation for a specific period of time (hence the “deferred action”) and the ability to study or apply for legal work permits.
According to a recent Pew Research report, about 790,000 young unauthorized immigrants have taken advantage of this programme since 2012.
The decision, announced by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, was welcomed by advocates of stricter immigration enforcement and widely condemned by Democrats, some Republicans, business executives and immigrant rights advocates as a cruel step that will hurt innocent people contributing to the nation. The overwhelming number of beneficiaries of the programme had been among the Mexicans living in the US. The move has been received as the latest in a litany of anti-immigrant policies of Trump administration.
The work permits currently provided to young immigrants under the programme, which last for two years before they need renewal, will remain in force until they expire. Only those participants whose permits expire before March 5, 2018, will be eligible to renew their legal status one last time, provided they successfully apply for it by October 5.
Participants of the programme — also referred to as the “Dreamers” — are understandably left angry and nervous, as their future status in the country could be acutely unsteadied by this move. Once the permits expire, the holders, many of whom only remember US as their home, would lose legal permission to stay in the country and become vulnerable to deportation, although the US Department of Homeland Security officials stated on Tuesday that they wouldn’t actively use personal information to target former participants. Even if that is the case, these immigrants may be forced to work illegally for a low pay to pay for their tuition or to support their families.
Barack Obama, who instituted DACA in August 2012 through an executive order, raised opposition to his successor’s move in a rare public statement. “Today is a cruel day for Dreamers, our families, and all Americans … President Trump just threw the lives and futures of 800,000 Dreamers and their families, including my own, into fearful disarray, and injected chaos and uncertainty into thousands of workplaces and communities across America,” he said.
Why should Indians care?
The repeal of DACA has also been unequivocally condemned by various Indian-American lawmakers. According to the non-profit organisation SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together), which promotes civil rights for south Asian immigrants in the US, approximately 2,40,000 undocumented Indians were living in the US in 2011, making India seventh highest country of origin for undocumented individuals in the United States.
“Over 27,000 Asian Americans, including 5,500 Indians and Pakistanis, have already received DACA. An additional estimated 17,000 individuals from India and 6,000 from Pakistan respectively are eligible for DACA, placing India in the top ten countries for DACA eligibility,” a press statement released by the organisation stated. As per this estimate, the number of young unauthorized immigrants from India covered or eligible under DACA exceeds 20,000.
The “Dreamers” and the Dream Act
The Dream Act, the legislation under which the young immigrants would have a legal path to gain citizenship, repeated failed to cross the required vote threshold in the US Congress — the last failed attempt being in 2010. The pressure from the frustrated Immigrants Rights activists forced Obama to instate DACA as a compromise. Unlike the Dream Act, DACA did not provide a legal pathway to American citizenship.
The onus of protecting the DACA participants is now back on the US Congress, who would have to take on the urgent task to pass one of the versions of the pending legislation — either by continuing to provide temporary legal protection and potentially by providing them an eventual path to citizenship.
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