A demonstrator displays a placard as she marches in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters while protesting the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in Chicago. (Photographer: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg)

Who the `Dreamers' Are, and What They're Dreaming Of: QuickTake

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said in September 2017 he was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the "Dreamers" program that President Barack Obama created in 2012 to shield young, undocumented immigrants from deportation. Trump delayed his edict until March 2018 to give Congress time to craft a replacement, but talks to extend the program got bogged down in budget negotiations, resulting in the three-day government shutdown. Trump now says he would consider opening the door to citizenship for the Dreamers if that’s part of a deal that includes his own immigration priorities.

1. What is DACA, exactly?

It’s a policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children before 2007 to apply for renewable, two-year permits that protect them from deportation and allow them to work legally. Applicants must have been less than 16 years old when they arrived and younger than 31 when DACA began in 2012. They must have no significant criminal record and be enrolled in high school or have a diploma or the equivalent. The program doesn’t provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship.

2. Why did Trump call for DACA’s demise?

The president promised during his 2016 presidential campaign to end DACA and 10 Republican state attorneys general threatened to sue the U.S. if he didn’t follow through. The AGs argued that Obama had violated the Constitution’s separation of powers by making a unilateral decision about immigration without congressional input. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who supports strict immigration law enforcement, had told Trump that the U.S. couldn’t defend DACA if the states sued.

3. How is Congress involved?

It’s up to lawmakers to decide whether or how to handle the Dreamers. Democrats generally, along with a handful of Republicans, have sought to protect them in exchange for funding the wall that Trump wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border. Many Republicans want not just the wall funding but the changes in legal immigration that Trump has proposed, such as ending visa preferences for family members of U.S. citizens -- what Trump disparages as "chain migration." In a series of Senate votes on Feb. 15, measures from both sides fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass. The standoff left Dreamers in limbo.

4. Who’s protected by DACA?

As many as 1.3 million people were immediately eligible, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Of those, about 800,000 have enrolled. Another 400,000 would be eligible if they met the education requirement. About 230,000 more are younger than the minimum age of 15, but will become eligible if they get a high-school diploma or equivalent. The vast majority are from Mexico, with smaller contingents from Guatemala, El Salvador, South Korea and Honduras, among other countries. Most have no connection to their previous countries. Some didn’t know they were undocumented until they sought driver’s licenses or college aid. Current law makes it difficult for them to obtain legal status unless they leave the country and apply.

5. Why are they called ‘Dreamers’?

The name comes from legislation, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act -- DREAM Act, for short -- proposed in the U.S. Senate several times since 2001 but never passed.

6. What’s happening to current Dreamers?

After Trump said he would end the program, the Department of Homeland Security said those currently in the U.S. can keep their employment authorizations until they expire or are revoked. The government stopped accepting new, two-year DACA applications and said that pending ones would be accepted on a case-by-case basis. Those whose permits lapsed after March 5, 2018, wouldn’t be allowed to renew them. Federal judges in San Francisco and Brooklyn have temporarily blocked Trump’s order, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the administration’s request to take up the matter immediately.

7. Did DACA cause a child-immigrant surge?

Trump claims DACA triggered a "massive surge" of undocumented children from Central America to the U.S. via Mexico in 2013 and 2014, some of whom joined violent gangs such as MS-13. It’s true that tens of thousands of children surged across the southern border, many fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. It’s also possible they didn’t know about, or misunderstood, DACA’s requirements that participants had to be at least 15 years old, must have been in the U.S. by June 2012 and must have arrived in the U.S. before turning 16. It’s more likely that child immigrants were drawn to the U.S. by another law, the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, signed by President George W. Bush, which required that child immigrants from countries other than Canada or Mexico should be promptly placed in a refugee resettlement program.

8. Did DACA result in job losses and lower wages?

The claim by Trump and the attorney general that Dreamers have taken hundreds of thousands of jobs away from natural-born citizens isn’t really backed by economic reality. It supposes that there are a fixed number of jobs in the world instead of a figure that changes as more people arrive in a given country, by birth or immigration. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, including George Borjas, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Using labor economist David Card’s study of the 1980 boatlift of about 125,000 Cuban immigrants, most of whom settled in Miami, Borjas suggested they largely took jobs away from locals rather than creating additional ones. Critics said Borjas made incorrect use of Census data. There is still no agreement.

9. What are employers saying?

Business leaders, particularly from the immigration-friendly technology industry, have warned Trump that ending the program would have economic and social consequences. Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg called Trump’s decision “particularly cruel,” while Microsoft Corp. President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said the company is “deeply disappointed” by the move and urged Congress to quickly replace DACA with new legislation. In a blog post, Smith said Microsoft will provide legal counsel to any employee protected by DACA that the government seeks to deport.

The Reference Shelf

  • Michael Bloomberg on what Congress owes the Dreamers.
  • An open letter from business leaders to President Trump, urging him to keep DACA’s protections.
  • Video of a Migration Policy Institute conference on what the future may hold for Dreamers.
  • A survey of DACA beneficiaries shows the average age at which they arrived in the U.S. was just six-and-a-half.
  • A DACA fact sheet from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.
  • A recent survey shows most Americans favor shielding Dreamers from deportation.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.