A Federal Judge Ruled to Fully Reinstate DACA, but the Fight Continues

by Elizabeth Turnbull

On Friday, Dec. 4, a federal judge ordered the government to fully reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to continue to live and work here.

Created by the Obama administration in 2012, the program has been under attack since then by both Republicans and the Trump administration. This past summer, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf issued a memorandum that prevented new applicants from enrolling in the program and reduced the length of work permits from two years to one. But on Dec. 4, that memo was reversed, restoring all of DACA’s original protections. 

While the program already protects roughly 640,000 young undocumented immigrants, this recent development means that new applications will be accepted again and roughly 300,000 additional applicants could be able to apply. In addition, the work permits associated with the program have been brought back to two years in length. 

Having the option to apply, though, is only one obstacle for many DACA-hopefuls. Jorge Barón, executive director at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), told the Emerald that his organization has struggled to respond to all the requests they’ve received for help with the application process.

“There’s limited capacity even with our organization to help as many people as we can,” Barón said on Dec. 8. “One of my colleagues today was telling me that they were getting one call every three minutes from people who were inquiring about this.” 

Although the ruling is a substantial step, it’s not all smooth sailing from here. Technically, the decision could still be appealed by the Trump administration, and Republican attorneys general are still pushing for a judge to declare the program unlawful in a federal court case in Texas. 

Ray Corona, founder of the Washington Dream Coalition, described the recent ruling as joyful but just part of an ongoing struggle for a permanent solution for the undocumented community. 

“As a DACA recipient myself, I’m excited to be in a position where I know that I can continue to apply to the program and renew my work permit, but that others who have not been able to apply … will have the opportunity to apply now,” Corona said. Still, the fight goes on. “This reinstatement of DACA is really just the beginning.”

José Manuel Vasquez, the community engagement and programs specialist at the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, himself a DACA recipient, pointed out that the ruling reduces at least some uncertainty for Dreamers. Those who were concerned about being able to stay in the U.S. at all can continue to make long-term plans. In particular, restoring the program’s work permit to two years instead of one has huge implications for people trying to make important life decisions, like buying a home or starting a family.   

“I myself recently tried to purchase a home and had to go through extra hoops just because of my DACA status,” Manuel Vasquez said. “It’s really hard living in this status of limbo where you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

The ruling feels like a reprieve from all that, especially given the promise of a new Democratic administration. However, there is plenty of speculation as to whether the Biden administration will prove to be an ally to immigrants who have survived the harsh rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration. 

So far, President-elect Biden has promised to restore the DACA program, but big questions remain surrounding more comprehensive legislation — laws that would provide permanent protections for immigrants in general, for instance, as well as a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

“The rhetoric we heard from the Trump administration was really hurtful at times, and at times it caused a lot of fear and panic,” Manuel Vasquez said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll no longer live under this hostile federal administration, but we’re also a little bit skeptical, and we’ll continue to push and advocate for what our community needs.”

Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based reporter.

Featured image by Susan Fried.