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How Deferred Action Improved The Lives of 600,000 Young People and Won President Obama the White House

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June 15th marked the two year anniversary of the President’s creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for DREAMers.  This was arguably the most important immigration policy change in decades and one that has changed the lives of more than 600,000 young immigrants who are Americans in all but paperwork.

As we celebrate the two-year anniversary of DACA, we call on House Republicans to finally deliver a permanent legislative solution.  They have ten more days to act.  But if they don’t, we expect the President to step in and do what he’s done before to reshape immigration policy for the benefit of immigrants, their American families, the country and yes—progressive politics as well.  DACA works, and it’s time to expand its protections and opportunities to more members of the immigrant community.

Three more of the nearly 600,000 lives that have been improved by DACA

Kareli Lizárraga: Kareli, who came to the U.S. at age four from Mexico, is a University of Pennsylvania graduate who teaches at a charter school in Denver, CO as a Teach for America corps member, thanks to DACA.  As described recently in the Denver Post, “The daughter of a welder and a restaurant worker, Lizárraga knows what it is to be poor and find her way to success.  She tells her students at STRIVE Prep-Sunnyside — many of them low-income minorities, some without legal status — about getting into the college of her dreams and becoming a teacher…Lizárraga is an example of the talented young people who have the ability and will to propel this country to greater things if only we will let them.”

Gerardo Torres came to the U.S. at the age of 7. He’s now 19 years old and once he received DACA he was able to get a job to help him pay his tuition for college. Gerardo was accepted to Metropolitan State University of Denver and just finished his first year of studies to become a civil engineer. He’s very motivated in school because he knows it is his parents’ dream that he and his siblings have a better future. (Story from PICO National Network’s Campaign for Citizenship, read more here).

Nilvia has lived in the U.S. for the past 20 years.  Growing up unable to get a license, a decent job, or federal student aid was difficult for Nilvia, but after receiving her DACA approval, she was finally able to apply for jobs that paid well for her skill level and come out of the shadows to fight for the rights for undocumented immigrants. While DACA is not a comprehensive fix, it certainly changed her life and served as a positive step in the right direction for ending much of the injustices committed against immigrants in her small town in Iowa.

DACA-mented young people receive temporary papers that need to be renewed every two years.  This semi-annual process is another way of marking the time that congressional Republicans have obstructed a legislative solution, and another reminder that President Obama has acted decisively in the past and must do so again.  Another step forward on immigration is long overdue—for the community and the country.

How Deferred Action Won Obama the White House

 DACA not only changed the lives and futures of 600,000 young immigrants who are Americans in all but paperwork, but it changed the course of the 2012 elections by sparking renewed enthusiasm for President Obama among Latino voters and others in the rising new electorate.  Two years on and we are in a similar environment as before DACA.  Latinos are disillusioned, swing voters are frustrated with Washington gridlock and inaction, and immigrant families are being ripped apart by deportation every day. June 2014 immigration polling from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) finds that Latino voters’ approval of President Obama has declined from 72% to 51% compared to 2013.

A new policy for executive action could energize key voters that Democrats need to turn out in 2014, and improve the lives of so many American families facing the threat of deportation. In a June 2014 poll from Latino Decisions, three-quarters of Latino voters said they would blame Republicans if immigration reform didn’t happen in Congress this year.  July 2013 polling from Latino Decisions explored the reaction of Latino voters in twenty-four Republican-held competitive House districts to the now likely scenario that House Republicans block immigration reform legislation and President Obama steps in and delivers executive action to provide legal status for undocumented immigrants.  The poll found that 67% of Latino voters in these two dozen districts would be more favorable to President Obama and the Democrats, including 49% who would be “much more favorable,” if the President stepped in and delivered executive relief in light of GOP obstruction.  Meanwhile, 63% of Latino voters would view House Republicans less favorably, including 44% who would be “much less favorable” to House Republicans.

And as Aaron Blake of the Washington Post’s “The Fix” political blog writes, “The president’s approval ratings on these issues [immigration and gun control] was never high, but in both cases, it trended upward as he tried to do something about them — the push for new gun restrictions last year and his 2012 executive order halting deportations for young illegal immigrants — only to fall to new lows today.  Few things could demonstrate better that, for a two-term president, being right isn’t sufficient.  You need to get results.”

In June 2012, when announcing DACA in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama said, “[This is] not a permanent fix.  This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people…Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act.”

However, two years later, Congress still has not passed immigration reform, and the chances that House Republicans will take it up appear diminished every day.  After a strong bi-partisan vote passing a Senate immigration reform bill in June 2013, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have refused to deliver a vote on immigration reform in the past year, despite having the necessary votes to pass a reform bill.  Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has presided over record high number of deportations – and has faced mounting pressure, disillusionment, and anger in direct result of his enforcement record.  So instead of celebrating the long-awaited passage of immigration reform bill at another Rose Garden ceremony, millions of immigrant families are waiting and worrying.

House Republicans have until June 26th, the end of this work period, to show action on immigration or be blamed for blocking it.  If they fail to do so, they will be held accountable at the ballot box in 2014 and 2016, and all eyes will turn to the President to act decisively once again and create a way for more productive residents of American communities to come forward and apply for temporary status along the lines of the successful DACA program.