In 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was put into place by then-president Barack Obama via an executive order. The landmark program allows for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to obtain temporary deportation protection for two years and eligibility for a work permit. To be eligible for DACA, these immigrants must have been brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday. There are other limitations: they also need to be a current student, high school graduate, or honorably discharged from the military, younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012, and not pose a threat to national security.
DACA does not provide a path to citizenship. It also does not provide eligibility for welfare or student aid.
Even without these benefits, the DACA program has provided hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants the ability to come out of the shadows. Many have been able to go to college, get driver’s licenses, get jobs, and pay certain taxes for the first time. (Almost all immigrants, documented or undocumented, pay other taxes.) A study published in the Journal of Public Economics estimated that DACA moved over 50,000 undocumented immigrants into employment.
Even with all of these positive effects, on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally announced the Trump administration’s plans to end DACA, calling its implementation by Obama an “open-ended circumvention of immigration laws.” As reported by The New York Times, current DACA recipients will be able to apply to renew their 2-year legal status (including work permits and deportation) until October 5.
The Trump administration’s decision places the onus on Congress to replace DACA with new protections for young undocumented immigrants by March 5, 2018, when the policy is due to expire. However, as replacing DACA risks alienating some hard-line Republicans, it is unclear whether Congress will act, potentially leaving hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in the lurch.
DACA-related stories over the next few days may well be a mess of legalese and statistics. To put a face to the numbers, below, we’ve listed six DACA recipients that have taken the opportunity that the policy gave them and run with it. Without DACA, and without a suitable replacement policy, these young immigrants will be unable to contribute to their communities via legal employment and will be subject to deportation — many to countries they do not remember.
“The day it is revoked, I have to take off my white coat.”
1. Medical student Jirayut Latthivonskorn
When Latthivongskorn, the first undocumented medical school student at UC San Francisco, was first applying to graduate school, he told The Atlantic that it wasn’t clear whether his immigration status would bar him from attending. But, after a lot of hard work, research, and resiliency, he enrolled and took his place among his classmates.
“We really are at that pivotal moment when schools are now beginning to listen to us,” Latthivongskorn told The Atlantic in 2014. “Students are putting themselves out there and are sharing their stories and are letting schools know that hey, as undocumented students we have so much to contribute to these fields.”
As the publication notes, without DACA, Latthivongskorn will not have a work permit to contribute to his chosen field — a field that has now also chosen him.
2. YouTube vlogger Maria Garcia
Maria Garcia is a successful YouTube beauty vlogger who has accrued an online audience 42,000 YouTube followers with a series of bubbly, creative tutorials and lookbook videos — all while studying hard in college.
“I’m undocumented and unafraid,” she wrote in the description of a pro-DACA video uploaded Tuesday. “I had to let myself be vulnerable and let you in. I represent a DREAMER and I have an obligation to use this platform to raise awareness. Thank you for the voice that you guys have given me. I am here to tell you that DACA works! It works for me, for my undocumented peers, and for America.”
3. Houston paramedic Jesus Contreras
As reported by MSNBC, without DACA, Houston paramedic Contreras would have been unable to save Texans from the flooding that followed Hurricane Harvey.”I worked for six days helping with disaster relief,” Contreras told Buzzfeed News. “And if DACA had been removed in the middle of that, I would’ve been taken off the ambulance. You’re out there giving your heart out — and then you find out this might happen.”
4. Belén Sisa, a success coach at Arizona State University
In January, the Arizona State junior and DACA recipient debunked a popular myth about undocumented immigrants: that they don’t pay taxes, posting the below on Facebook:
I, an undocumented immigrant, just filed my taxes and PAID $300 to the state of Arizona. I cannot receive financial aid from the state or federal government for school, I cannot benefit from unemployment, a reduced healthcare plan, or a retirement fund. I think I’m a pretty good citizen.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Sisa has had such an impact on the community around her that she is now a first-year success coach at the university.
5. University of Pennsylvania medical resident Marina Di Bartolo
As reported by The Atlantic, Marina Di Bartolo’s applications merited full scholarship offers from multiple Ivy League schools. The Yale alum and University of Pennsylvania medical resident told the publication in February that she wouldn’t be able to help the patients she currently treats without DACA.
“The day it is revoked, I have to take off my white coat,” she said.
6. Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree Gaby Pacheco
Over the course of four months in 2010, Pacheco walked from Miami to Washington, D.C. to demand immigration reform and protection for undocumented children. The immigration rights advocate’s efforts in subsequent years have been credited as hugely influential to the creation of DACA.
“DACA leveled the playing field for me, and as a result, I am able to contribute more to the U.S. economy,” Pacheco wrote for Splinter News (then Fusion) on the day she bought her first house — a watershed moment made possible by DACA. “As a woman and an immigrant, I feel proud when I do my taxes. Yes, I sometimes grumble when I see how much of my hard-earned money goes toward the IRS, but I am reminded and thankful that this money is going to pay for the social security benefits of our country’s rapidly retiring baby boomers, toward our young people’s education, and other important social programs.”