Nine years ago this week, on the 15th of June 2012, former Democratic President Barack Obama protected Dreamers from deportation through an executive order, after an intense pressure campaign from these very same people and pro-immigrant organizations.
Obama did it before his reelection when he was looking for votes despite not having achieved his promise of pushing for broad immigration reform, and after his administration intensified deportations with the failed goal of earning Republican support for the reform he dodged.
Two years earlier, in 2010, the Democrats had lost control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.
In 2012, Obama was facing discontent from certain groups of voters for his poor management of the immigration issue, among other things. I remember visiting states where the Latino vote is key, like Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and New Mexico, and interviewing Hispanic voters who were even thinking about not voting in the 2012 elections, upset by the lack of reform and the wave of deportations.
After the order was announced, and just months and weeks from the general elections, I returned to these same states, and the Latino voters I interviewed said that the DACA executive order would make them vote to reelect Obama.
The president was reelected with greater Hispanic support than in 2008, and in his second term, he proposed, in 2013, an immigration reform plan to legalize millions, which was approved by the Democratic Senate but was never considered in the majority-Republican House of Representatives.
The DACA executive order demonstrated that although immigration is not necessarily the central issue for all Latino voters, for many it is, at the point when it comes to deciding whether and whom to vote for–whether it be because they have friends or loved ones who would benefit from reform, or simply out of empathy, or understanding that the legalization of millions would not only benefit individuals and families, but communities, the economy, and the nation.
In 2017, Republican Donald J. Trump suspended DACA. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the suspension had not followed certain procedures and ordered it to be reinstated in its original form. Trump’s DHS reinstated the policy, but without opening it up to new applications and with fewer protections. In December 2020, a federal judge reinstalled the program in its original form, and this year the Democrat Joe Biden reinforced the executive order upon assuming the presidency.
Nine years after DACA, sadly, we continue without a permanent legislative solution to legalize and open up a path to citizenship, not only for Dreamers but millions of undocumented immigrants who are farmworkers, essential workers in other industries, and TPS beneficiaries, among others.
The Dreamers are perhaps the group of undocumented people who generate the most support among the population, for having arrived in this country when they were children.
Therefore it’s not surprising that, as the ninth anniversary of DACA is commemorated, we will see many speeches and declarations about the program’s effectiveness and the need to legalize them permanently, and not just protect them from deportation and give them work permits through an executive order.
Among the many who praise Dreamers will be Republican figures who, on the one hand, claim to support this group and on the other, have repeatedly blocked efforts to legalize them.
This year marks not only the ninth anniversary of DACA but twenty years since the first time the DREAM Act, the bill to legalize Dreamers, was introduced. It was first filed in April 2001 by Senators Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, and Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah.
Moreover, this year marks thirty-five years since the last true amnesty on November 6, 1986, by Republican President Ronald Reagan.
We already know the speeches in support of DACA, the DREAM Act, and reform by heart. It is time to act and produce results, especially considering that at this moment the Democrats control the Executive and Legislative branches.
The anniversary of DACA and its stories of success must be a reminder the regularizing the status of undocumented immigrants is good public policy; it must be done in a permanent and legislative manager; and that it must go beyond Dreamers to include the millions of people who have been awaiting a resolution for decades.