Younger ‘dreamers’ in US eye legal challenge with concern

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When Juliana Macedo do Nascimento enrolled in an Obama-era program to protect immigrants who came to the country as young children from deportation, she enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles, moving from jobs in housekeeping, childcare, auto repair and a construction company.

Now, a decade later, at 36, a graduate school at Princeton University is behind her and she works in Washington as deputy advocacy director for United We Dream, a national group.

“Dreamers” like Macedo do Nascimento, long a symbol of immigrant youth, are increasingly reaching middle age as eligibility requirements have been frozen since 2012, when the Deferred Action Program for New Arrivals children was introduced.

The oldest recipients were in their early 30s when DACA began and are in their early 40s today. At the same time, fewer people who have reached the age of 16 can meet the requirement of having been in the United States continuously since June 2007.

The average age of a DACA recipient was 28.2 in March, down from 23.8 in September 2017, according to the Migration Policy Institute. About 40% are 30 or older, according to fwd.us, a group that supports DACA.

As fewer are eligible and new registrations have been closed since July 2021 by court order, the number of DACA beneficiaries fell to just over 600,000 by the end of March, according to government figures.

The beneficiaries became owners and got married. Many have US citizen children.

“DACA is not for young people,” said Macedo do Nascimento. “They don’t even qualify anymore. We’re well into middle age.”

Born out of President Barack Obama’s frustration with Congress’ failure to reach an agreement on immigration reform, DACA was meant to be a temporary fix, and many saw it as flawed from the start. Immigration advocates were disappointed that the policy did not include a pathway to citizenship and warned that the need to renew the program every two years would leave many feeling in limbo. Opponents, including many Republicans, saw the policy as legal excess on Obama’s part and criticized it as rewarding people who failed to follow immigration law.

In a move to insulate DACA from legal challenges, the Biden administration on August 24 issued a 453-page rule that sticks closely to DACA as it was introduced in 2012. It codified DACA as a regulation subjecting it to potential changes after wide public comment.

DACA advocates welcomed the settlement but were disappointed that the eligibility age was unchanged.

The rule was “a missed opportunity,” said Karen Tumlin, an attorney and director of the Justice Action Center. DACA, she said, was “locked in time, like a fossil preserved in amber.”

The administration considered expanding the age of eligibility but decided against it, said Ur Jaddou, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the program.

“The president said to us, ‘How do we preserve and fortify DACA? How do we keep the program safe and how do we do it best?’ and this is the decision that was made after careful consideration and careful consideration,” Jaddou said Monday in Los Angeles.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering challenging DACA from Texas and eight other states, has asked both parties to explain how the new rule affects the program’s legal status.

Texas, in a filing Thursday, said the rule could not save DACA. States admitted that it is similar to the 2012 memo that created the program, but that they “share many of the same flaws.”

The executive has “neither the power to decide the major matters dealt with by DACA, nor the power to confer substantive immigration benefits,” the states wrote.

The Justice Department argued that the new rule — “substantially identical” to the original program — renders moot the argument that the administration failed to follow federal rule-making procedures.

DACA has been closed to new enrollees since July 2021 while the case continues in the New Orleans Court of Appeals, but two-year renewals are allowed.

The uncertainty surrounding DACA has caused anxiety and frustration among aging recipients.

Pamela Chomba, 32, arrived with her family from Peru when she was 11 and settled in New Jersey. She fears losing her job and missing mortgage payments if DACA is found to be illegal. She has put off becoming a mother because she doesn’t know if she can stay in the United States and doesn’t want to be a “burden” on her children.

“We are people with lives and plans, and we really want to make sure we can feel safe,” said Chomba, director of state immigration campaigns for fwd.us.

Macedo do Nascimento was 14 when she arrived with her family from Brazil in 2001. She had not seen her brother for 10 years, he returned to Brazil just before the announcement of DACA. International travel under DACA is very limited.

Like Biden and many DACA advocates, she believes legislation is the answer.

“Congress is the ultimate solution here,” she said. “(Both sides) keep passing the ball to each other.

The uncertainty affected her, the eldest of three siblings.

“The fear of being deported has returned,” Macedo do Nascimento said, because “you never know when this policy is going to end.”

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