New York City is quite literally a city built by immigrants, and proudly so as it celebrated the 10th anniversary of former President Barack Obama’s historic Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Mayor Eric Adams and Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro held a meeting at City Hall with a group of ‘DREAMers’ or DACA recipients. Adams said that clearly New York City will continue to support DREAMers and their families, regardless of their immigration status. He called on President Joe Biden to finally pass the American Dream and Promise Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers.
“I’m proud to be the first DREAMer-appointed commissioner for the City of New York and to continue fighting for my community,” said Castro.
In March 2020, there were an estimated 643,560 active DACA recipients in the country, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) numbers. There are over 150,000 DREAMers living and working in New York City currently, said Adams. “These young people contribute to our society, day after day, and many times take on the jobs others are unwilling to tackle,” said Adams.
DACA was created back in 2012, “in light of congressional inaction” as a temporary solution to allow hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. with protection from deportation, access to work permits, health insurance, free photo identification, and education, said the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA).
U.S. Rep Adriano Espaillat (D-Harlem) said, in a separate conference, that DACA has been transformative to the lives of young immigrants, but “the program falls short of a pathway to citizenship” and “is by no means a substitute for fixing our broken immigration system.”
Former Pres. Donald Trump had threatened to end the program on Sept. 5, 2017 in his crusade to toughen immigration laws. This decision eventually reached the Supreme Court. Ending DACA was overturned during the onslaught of the pandemic in June of 2020 as a violation of federal law, said MOIA.
Yaritza Mendez is co-director of organizing at Make the Road New York, the largest progressive grassroots immigrant-led organization in New York State with more than 25,000 members. “A decade ago, we won DACA through the fierce and relentless organizing by undocumented youth who bravely put their bodies on the line. As we remember this historic day, it also marks a decade of inaction by Congress to deliver on their promises of permanent protections for our communities,” said Mendez in a statement.
In a separate case in a Texas federal court also challenging DACA, the program was ruled “unlawful” in July 2021. Under this court’s ruling immigration services can no longer process or grant first-time applications for DACA recipients, but renewals and advance parole options are open.
Make the Road New York member Johana Larios is in the courts as a DACA first-time applicant whose case has stalled since the ruling last year. Her case is the Batalla Vidal v. Wolf lawsuit.
“For the past four years, I have been denied the opportunity to apply for DACA. I have been living in limbo, waiting for court decision after court decision with enormous uncertainty, fearing that I could be separated from my children,” said Larios. “We cannot continue to live with this instability.”
Larios called for Biden and Congress to deliver on their promises and pass pathway to citizenship. “We cannot wait any longer,” said Larios.
“Today, DACA continues to be under attack, with 80,000 new DACA applications currently stalled, leaving thousands who have not been able to have their applications processed in limbo,” said Mendez. “In less than a month, the case will be back in court and heard in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.”
There’s still time for the current DACA ruling to be changed by a higher court or appealed by Biden, said MOIA.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w