There are approximately 10.5 million undocumented individuals in the United States according to Pew Research. Immigrants often leave their home countries seeking better opportunities and a brighter future. Refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants are escaping poverty, political conflict, natural disasters, and violence. To provide limited relief to some undocumented immigrants, on June 15, 2012, former President Barack Obama used his executive power to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA provides approved individuals with work authorization and a social security number, allowing recipients to apply for driver licenses and identification cards. DACA is a deferred action, meaning that it is discretionary and available only for certain undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children. To qualify for DACA, individuals must meet strict eligibility criteria, which include: arriving in the U.S. before the age of 16, meeting certain educational requirements, being under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, never being convicted of a felony, and never posing a threat to national security or public safety. In the following, we’ll explore this program further and the role social workers can play in regards to immigration justice.
DACA in Action
When DACA was first introduced, it brought a sense of relief to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who could benefit from this executive action. One DACA recipient, who was interviewed for this article, discussed in-depth what DACA meant to her and her family. Nataly*, a 32-year-old Mexican woman, was brought to the United States by a coyote at the young age of six. Before DACA, Nataly expressed living in constant fear of deportation and arrest. She stated, “As a kid without documentation, I was embarrassed to talk about my status. When other students talked about going to college, I felt like there was no future for me and I couldn’t move forward.” DACA provided hope to hundreds of thousands of young people like Nataly. After gaining DACA, Nataly described feeling relieved and excited. “I felt hope, happiness, and security about my future. I felt like I could become whoever I wanted; although I faced racism as a DACA recipient trying to enroll in college, I didn’t give up.” DACA recipients must pay out-of-state tuition at most universities, regardless of how long they have been in that State, and in most States they do not qualify for financial student aid.
A Deeper Look at DACA
To fully understand DACA, it is critical to know that DACA does not lead to a path to citizenship or permanent residency and it can be revoked at any time. Although approximately 643,560 people have benefitted from this action, DACA has received wide criticism and opposition from citizens and political figures according to the Center for American Progress. Despite being upheld by the Supreme Court, DACA’s critics cast it as an unlawful solution to deal with undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. As we continue to witness the legal battles unfold in the courts in attempts to rescind the program, Nataly cries and expresses being scared because the U.S. government has access to all of her information and can easily locate her now. Just like Nataly, many DACA recipients, often referred to as Dreamers, are experiencing fears, anxiety, and sometimes depression. They constantly worry about what the court will decide and whether the decision will affect their ability to continue attending school, working, staying in the country, and pursuing their dreams. In addition, they face the persistent fear of deportation and the inability to support their families emotionally and financially. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers continue to be in turmoil due to the lack of comprehensive immigration reform.
Today, the DACA program is 9 years old and as we look into the future, we need to recognize that Dreamers have demonstrated that they belong in the United States. They are our colleagues, neighbors, friends, and essential workers. They pay $613.8 million in mortgage payments and $2.3 billion in rental payments annually. They also pay $5.7 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes every year. They are part of the fabric of this country. They make tremendous economic contributions to our society, and many of them are on the frontlines treating patients suffering from physical illness and mental health issues caused by the global Coronavirus pandemic.
The Responsibility of Social Workers
As social workers, we are tasked with fighting for social justice for all people. Whether we are allies or are directly affected by this issue, it is imminent that we support and raise our voice on behalf of all the Dreamers. Undocumented immigrants are a vulnerable population and social workers should challenge how Congress, organizations, universities, and all other institutions see and treat Dreamers. Nataly is now a dental hygienist, a small business owner, and a mother of two. This is the only home she knows and remembers. You can help Nataly and hundreds of thousands of Dreamers like her by calling your representatives in Congress, signing petitions, attending calls to action, and educating the public. For more information about how you can get involved, check out immigrant rights organizations such as United We Dream, the UndocuBlack Network, and join the Social Workers United for Immigration network (SWUFI).
*A pseudonym was used to protect the identity of the interviewee.
SWUFI is a network committed to the well-being and advancement of immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and fighting for their rights. Together, we envision access to resources for immigrants, an immigration movement where social workers stand strong alongside immigrants and allies at the local, state, and federal levels, and collaboration among social workers that includes peer support, and educational opportunities. To join, send an email to email@example.com.
Christeen Badie is a human-centered, macro-practitioner, who began her career working in international education and supporting projects for global firms. Ms. Badie has spent a decade managing programs and overseeing projects in the health and human services sphere. Most recently, she leads programmatic initiatives with a focus on partnership development, project implementation, and training. She has a passion for serving immigrants, refugees, and using technology to improve the well-being of communities. As an asylee herself, Ms. Badie is especially interested in advocacy and policy in the areas of immigration justice, women's economic empowerment, and reproductive rights. She earned her Bachelor of Science in International Business from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and her Master of Social Work with an emphasis on Global Social Work from Rutgers University. She is an LGSW in Washington, DC, and speaks Arabic and Spanish.
Karina has nine years of experience providing direct services to diverse and vulnerable populations that range from children to older adults. Karina obtained a dual-associate degree in General Studies and Mental Health from Montgomery College in 2013 and later earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2017. Karina is licensed to practice Social Work in the State of Maryland. While attending school, Karina worked as an outreach specialist and case manager for youth at risk focusing in the areas of education, sex education, violence reduction and substance abuse. Later, she began her work with unaccompanied minors and survivors of human trafficking. She provided wrap-around services while facilitating intake and comprehensive assessments. She completed and coordinated referrals to the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) to obtain U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) certification. Karina has worked with the immigrant community in different capacities over the past decade, beginning with her work as a youth leader helping bring change and educational opportunities for undocumented students through the passage of the Maryland Dream Act. In the same manner, she conducted widespread regional outreach, organized and mobilized community members to advocate for social justice and human rights more specifically with individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Karina has received extensive yearly training in different areas such as case management, crisis intervention, trauma-informed care, positive youth development, human development among other areas. Karina is currently the Rapid Response and Client Engagement case manager at the UMD SAFE Center. As the Rapid Response and Client Engagement case manager, she facilitates comprehensive and trauma-informed services to survivors of Human Trafficking.