Almost 690,000 DACA recipients — about 7,000 of them in Oklahoma — wait in limbo, according to U. S. Customs and Immigration Services, with two court cases pending on the immigration law and little prospect for Congressional action in the meantime.
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a 2012 law that allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children, and who did not have felony criminal records, to register for a renewable two-year deferment of any immigration action against them. It also allowed them to receive a Social Security number and the ability to obtain a driver’s license and to legally work in the United States.
DACA is a 2012 law that allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children and who did not have felony criminal records, to register for a renewable two-year deferment of any immigration action against them, and to receive a Social Security number, the ability to obtain a driver’s license and to legally work in the United States.
The Obama-era program was rescinded last fall by President Trump, with a March 5 deadline for Congress to pass a revision or replacement.
In January, President Trump proposed a 12-year path to citizenship for DACA recipients and those who would be eligible for the program — about 1.8 million immigrants, in all. His plan also called for $25 billion to build a border wall and other security measures, and would have curtailed legal immigration into the country.
That proposal faced stiff opposition, both from Republicans who saw the path to citizenship as amnesty, and from Democrats who were opposed to the border wall and curtailing legal immigration.
About the same time, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled against the president’s rescission of DACA. The Supreme Court in February declined to take up a federal appeal of that ruling, and it now is working its way through the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Also in February, a second federal judge in New York ruled the president improperly terminated DACA, and ordered the government to continue accepting DACA renewals. That case now heads to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
The March 5 deadline for Congressional action passed without any resolution, but the court injunctions have temporarily forestalled ending DACA.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., told the News & Eagle there’s still hope DACA could be “fixed,” if bipartisan support can be gained.
“I am still optimistic we can consider immigration legislation again this Congress, and it will likely include a DACA fix,” Inhofe said. “It will certainly be an uphill battle unless the Senate Democrats are willing to negotiate – they were not willing to last time. President Trump has made a DACA fix a priority, but Democrats continue to use it as a political issue instead of working to actually fix it.”
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said it’s unlikely Congress will take any action on DACA until the cases in the 9th and 2nd circuits are complete.
“Congress will not vote (on DACA) until those court rulings come out,” Lankford told the News & Eagle in a phone interview. “We saw that, even in February, when momentum was building in trying to get to a resolution.”
Lankford said the court cases effectively gave Congress more time to find a resolution, but also removed all sense of urgency on the matter.
“As soon as the pressure went away to resolve it,” Lankford said, “the momentum went on to other issues.”
Lankford said he’s one of “only about four” members of Congress still actively working for a resolution to DACA. He declined to name the others, but said both Democrats and Republicans are involved.
“We’re working quietly,” he said, “and the quieter we can work, the better.”
Lankford said some plan is needed, because the court rulings aren’t likely to definitively resolve the dispute over DACA.
“I believe when the court actually rules, the court will rule with President Trump on this,” Lankford said, “because the main question is: ‘Can a president change the executive actions of the previous president?’”
Lankford said there’s little doubt the answer to that question will be ‘Yes,’ leaving it back to Congress to find a resolution for the 690,000 actively-enrolled DACA recipients.
“I think the court will rule in favor of President Trump,” Lankford said, “and at that point the Senate and House will panic, and will have to see what can be resolved.”
For now, Lankford said he and his cohorts are working to pull together elements from four measures that failed to pass before the March 5 deadline, to craft a bipartisan package that could pass if and when the matter comes back before Congress.
Lankford said he agrees with the president’s proposal, and would like to see a path to full naturalization for DACA recipients and DACA-eligible immigrants.
“These kids were riding along with their parents and didn’t know what their parents were doing,” Lankford said, “and they shouldn’t be held accountable for their parents’ actions.”
If DACA isn’t renewed or replaced, and DACA recipients are forced to leave the country, Lankford said there will be a cost to the Oklahoma economy.
He said there currently are about 7,500 DACA recipients working, attending school and paying taxes in Oklahoma.
“Many of those individuals are already in jobs in Oklahoma, or in schools in Oklahoma, and there would be a tremendous amount of turmoil for those employers,” Lankford said. “These are not seasonal jobs. These are people working normal jobs in our hospitals, our schools, and on and on. It’s hard to estimate what that economic impact would be, but there would be an impact.”
According to a 2017 report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-partisan Washington D.C.-based think tank, “young undocumented immigrants enrolled or immediately eligible for DACA contribute an estimated $2 billion a year in state and local taxes” nationwide.
“Replacing DACA with a path to citizenship could provide nearly $505 million in additional state and local taxes,” nationwide, the ITEP report said, “increasing total contributions to at least $2.53 billion a year.”
A July 2017 report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning Washington D.C.-based policy think tank, estimated Oklahoma would lose more than $343 million in gross domestic product per year, if DACA recipients were removed from the economy.
The report estimated national GDP losses of more than $460 billion over the next 10 years if DACA ends without a comparable replacement.
The circuit court cases over DACA could be heard as early as May, and from there either side could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.