By Irann Arias Rodriguez
Since its enactment in June of 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has been celebrated, attacked, rescinded, and revived, as this policy reaches its decennium.
For the many Dreamers who fight for the passing of the Dream Act, which could grant many young undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, DACA fails to deliver that access.
CSUSB assistant professor Paloma Villegas, Ph.D. of Sociology, has spent most of her academic career researching and examining the lives of undocumented persons within the United States and Canada. In her classes, Villegas facilitates and leads discussions on immigration, the experiences of the undocumented college student, DACA, and the dreamer narrative, among many other related topics.
Q: What can you tell us about the inception of DACA during the Obama administration in 2012, ten years ago?
A: The first thing I want to say about DACA is that DACA was not something that was granted by the Obama administration. It was long fought by undocumented migrants, particularly undocumented students, but undocumented migrants more generally. I think that it is important to highlight that this is not something– when folks are fighting for equity and justice– that comes from the top down, but it is something that comes from the grassroots, and the ground up. It is important to recognize the work of a lot of these activists that participated in the movement.
Q: In 2017, the Trump administration took steps to dismantle and rescind DACA but was then reversed in 2020 by the Supreme Court. How has this affected DACAmented persons?
A: This instilled a chilling effect and a context of fear within the community, because if they are going after this program, then they are going to go after everything else. The last five years have been marked by consistent insecurity. You can imagine the mental health effects that produce, as well. It affects people’s lives, and their choice to maybe have children; choices in careers or their studies; or what majors they decide to go into because of this potential insecurity.
Q: Are new DACA applications being accepted, and or processed at this time?
A: No new applications are being accepted. They are only renewing folks who already have DACA. As someone starts to be of the age where they can apply for DACA, they are no longer eligible because of this. They are still fighting it in the courts.
Q: What are some of the continued concerns regarding the current state of DACA?
A: When folks apply for DACA, they are providing personal information to immigration authorities about their lives and what they do day-to-day. All that information is archived. In some of my research, I speak about the ways that the archiving of this information can later be used. If DACA were to be rescinded, can we later use it to search for and identify undocumented immigrants? The potential repercussions of that are the rise in detention and deportations that we saw in the Obama administration and the Trump administration and are continuing to see in the Biden administration.
Q: What can CSUSB do to continue to aid the DACAmented, as well as the undocumented community?
A: I think that there are important programs in place, but I think we can always do more. The last few years have been difficult for undocumented students because of these shifts and the threats of rescinding DACA, or just the threats of punitive immigration policies. The pandemic affected all of us, but particularly marginalized communities, especially undocumented folks, several of whom didn’t have access to the very little money that we got from the government. There are financial difficulties, mental health issues— many things that come together and affect undocumented students. We need to continue to do more work to create the most welcoming contexts for students who come to our campus.
Q: What do you believe are some of the hopes DACA will continue to provide or will become, as it reaches its tenth year of existence/anniversary?
A: The goal is comprehensive immigration reform. DACA can not be the end of the conversation, because it is temporary. Comprehensive immigration reform can allow for everyone to have access to apply and to ‘regularize’ their status. Instead of seeing DACA as the end, or the promised land—we should see DACA as a first step. There have been a lot of critiques of folks who say, you know, maybe DACA was a mistake. I do not know if I agree with them, but maybe DACA was a mistake because it has kind of stopped the conversation. We could have maybe moved and pushed for comprehensive immigration reform. Opening it up and being as inclusive and as open as possible—is, I think, the goal— if we want and are interested in immigration justice.