US & World

5 years in, what's next for DACA?

Protesters hold signs and chant at a rally for DACA in Washington, D.C.
Protesters hold signs and chant at a rally for DACA in Washington, D.C.
LA Johnson/NPR

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Demonstrators came from across the country to gather at the White House in support of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as toddlers and children.

Five years ago Tuesday, President Obama signed an executive order protecting them from deportation. It's known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Fatima Romero is registered as a DACA participant. Now she worries what will happen if the order is revoked.
Fatima Romero is registered as a DACA participant. Now she worries what will happen if the order is revoked.
LA Johnson/NPR

Now immigrant rights groups — and immigrants themselves — worry that opponents and President Trump's administration are quietly working to revoke protection for DACA participants — young people like Claudia Quiñonez from Bolivia:

"I wouldn't be able to get a higher education, go to school, pay for my car. My whole life would end."

And Fatima Romero, who was born in El Salvador, and was 13 years old when her parents entered the U.S. illegally:

"I'm no less American than anyone who was born in this country. I've never committed a crime, I pay my taxes, we follow the law and all we want is to stay and contribute to the country that has given so much to us."

Nearly 800,000 people have registered under DACA since 2012. Along with protected status, it gives them permission to work, go to school and get a driver's license.

Claudia Quiñonez (center) leads protesters in a chant at a rally for DACA in Washington, D.C.
Claudia Quiñonez (center) leads protesters in a chant at a rally for DACA in Washington, D.C.
LA Johnson/NPR

"The point of DACA was to use them as an advertising gimmick," says Mark Krikorian, with the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that lobbies for tighter controls on immigration.

"Here are these sympathetic young people," he says. "Been here since they were 3 months old, don't speak enough Spanish to order at Taco Bell, valedictorians, signed up for the Marine Corps. It was a marketing tactic."

It's the constitutionality of DACA, however, that at least 10 state attorneys general have challenged. They've argued that President Obama did not have the authority to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants, no matter their age, or when and how they entered the U.S. But that fight has been tied up in the courts.

"The Trump administration hasn't said for sure what it's going to do," says Krikorian. "The only way to keep DACA would be for the Justice Department to defend the legality of the program. I don't see how that's even possible."

Absent the Trump administration's support, hundreds of thousands of young people would probably lose their protected status.

So, for now, it's the uncertainty — not knowing what's going to happen next — that has many registered under DACA on edge.

"It's scary," says Maria Diaz, who was a year old when her parents left Puebla, Mexico and arrived in Olathe, Kan., hoping for a better future. Twenty years later, she's finishing college at the University of Kansas.

She says it's scary to think that at any moment something could happen to her parents. "I'm not there to help them to answer the door if immigration comes, if they get pulled over and police ask for their documents."

Guillermina Diaz, Maria's mom, says yes, she's afraid too. In Spanish, she explains that she's constantly telling her daughter: "Don't worry about us. You go on dreaming. Don't give up on your dreams."

Maria has lined up a job at Bank of America — her dream job — this fall. But it won't mean much, she says, if her family is torn apart.