With DACA on the ropes, President Biden must do more to protect Dreamers

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was launched 12 years ago by then-President Barack Obama. It has a fragile, uncertain future.

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Thousands of young immigrants gather in front of the Chicago skyline.

Thousands of young undocumented immigrants line up at Navy Pier to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in August 2012. Then-President Barack Obama announced the program June 15, 2012.

John H. White/Sun-Times file

As the proud daughter of immigrants, the wife of a Dreamer and Congresswoman of Illinois’ 3rd District, I am constantly confronted with the lack of congressional action, compassion and humanity for people like my husband, Boris, a DACA recipient; my mother, Maria Elvira, a Guatemalan immigrant who risked her life while pregnant just to give me a chance at a better future; and my uncle, who after years of working, paying taxes and contributing to our economy has no path toward retirement or citizenship.

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Saturday, on the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, these questions torment families like mine. For many DACA recipients, the anniversary is not a moment of celebration. It is a yearly reminder of the program’s fragile, uncertain future. While their lives have changed over the past 12 years, too much about their status has remained the same. They are stuck in the same legal limbo that has become a defining characteristic of DACA.

My husband and so many Dreamers have lived most of their lives under DACA. They are not children anymore. He was 14 when he arrived in the U.S., and he has grown into a loving, supportive husband, dog dad to Lola and Milo, welcoming neighbor, and creative and hard-working entrepreneur.

Dreamers are business owners, caretakers, teachers, health care workers and vital members of our workforce and economy. In Illinois, Dreamers have paid more than $400 million in federal, state and local taxes. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, more than three-quarters of DACA recipients in the workforce, or 343,000 people, were employed in jobs deemed essential to keep our country running and our nation safe. Nationally, DACA recipients contribute $2.1 billion to Social Security and Medicare each year. They are navigating fundamentally different chapters of life than when they first became DACA recipients as teenagers. Yet, DACA has remained the same, facing Republican-led attack after attack and leaving millions without protections.

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Right now, there are approximately 500,000 people eligible for DACA who have been barred from applying due to the latest judicial rulings. Not to mention the 80,000 applicants whose cases have remained unprocessed and unadjudicated due to this administration’s inaction, even though they applied within the short time frame between a Supreme Court victory and another legal challenge. Meanwhile, a new generation of young, undocumented immigrants no longer meet DACA’s arbitrary cutoff dates and have been deemed ineligible altogether.

Trump is a threat to immigrants

For me, this anniversary is an urgent call to action and a blaring siren that we must deliver protections for millions of our constituents. At a time when Donald Trump and his far-right, anti-immigrant allies have doubled down on their vows to deport millions of undocumented people, including their dangerous and destructive Project 2025 plans, President Joe Biden must courageously set himself apart and exhaust every administrative avenue possible to protect and defend the 11.3 million Americans in DACA-impacted families living in uncertainty. Dreamers and all immigrants need immediate action by Biden and the White House to ensure a robust, inclusive safety net of protections is in place now.

I urge the Biden administration to explore all possible measures to modernize and strengthen DACA. Needed actions include providing consecutive DACA renewals and automatic extensions, extending cutoff dates so that more people are eligible for protections, making provisional waivers and cancellation of removals more accessible to those who are eligible, expanding humanitarian relief such as temporary protected status, and clearing visa backlogs.

Most urgently, the president must expand “parole in place” to the spouses and children of U.S. citizens and establish a preemptive process for cancellation of removal for family members who are caregivers. Doing so would offer temporary protection from removal, access to work authorization, and, in some cases, the opportunity to adjust their legal status. Families need action that keeps them together.

The Biden administration has delivered bold action that differentiates it from the preceding administration in many ways — on student loan debt, prescription drug prices and much more. The time for courageous actions and common-sense policies on immigration is now. The president has the power to give families like mine — to give partners and spouses like Boris — security, stability and their freedom to move, stay, live and thrive in the places they call home.

Biden, be the president who keeps millions of families together. Keep my family together.

U.S. Rep. Delia C. Ramirez represents Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.

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