The repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—an Obama-era program that allows undocumented youth to legally live and work in the United States—in Sept. 2017 sent shockwaves across the country, creating a sense of crisis for undocumented students at Harvard and beyond. President Donald Trump announced the repeal of the executive order and called on Congress to pass permanent protections before DACA expired in six months.
Hours after the decision, University President Drew G. Faust denounced the move to repeal DACA as “cruel” in an email to Harvard affiliates. Act on a Dream, a student group centered around immigration advocacy, hosted a rally in Tercentenary Theatre attended by hundreds of Harvard affiliates. Act on a Dream ramped up their advocacy following the repeal, as did Faust.
Six months have passed since then. The much-publicized date of March 5 has served as a call to Congress to pass protections for undocumented individuals in the United States—but it is now essentially irrelevant. Wondering what happened and what that means? Here’s the DACA deadline, explained.
The Trump administration set the deadline in September as part of its plan for ending DACA, under which it designated March 5 the last day that DACA recipients could apply to renew their status. It was originally the date on which Congress would have to pass legislation in order to secure protections for undocumented students, according to Roberto G. Gonzales, a professor at the Graduate School of Education.
“In order to phase it out what they [the Trump administration] did is they set up a timeline by which folks could re-apply for the last time. So anybody that had their DACA expiring on March 6th and beyond would not have an opportunity to re-apply,” said Jason M. Corral, the staff attorney at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program.
But, according to Gonzales and Corral, the meaning of the deadline has changed. Two federal judges—one in California and another in New York—have halted the administration's termination of DACA. The administration asked the Supreme Court to weigh in early on these cases and the Court declined to do so. As a result, the lower courts are still accepting applications for DACA-recipients to renew their status, Corral said.
While the lower courts are still accepting renewal DACA renewal applications, offering a window of protection to DACA-recipients, Corral explained there is still concern about DACA recipients experiencing a lapse in their protections as they wait for renewal.
“It is kind of null and void, but it created this system by which it’s possible that some people will have a lapse in their status,” Corral said. “And there is a certain level of uncertainty because the Trump administration has shown that they wish to get rid of DACA.”
This “potential lapse in status”—meaning that some recipients could temporarily lose DACA status—has raised concerns among DACA recipients, according to Corral, who called it a “legal limbo.”
“It’s possible that they could have a lapse in their employment authorization or their DACA status, and while that might not be a huge issue, there is something called unlawful presence that sometimes prevents people from being able to take advantage of more permanent solutions in the future,” he said.
“That’s the big question,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said that, since DACA began in 2012, DACA recipients have made “great gains,” especially in terms of increasing their earnings through lawful employment, maximizing their educational opportunities, obtain healthcare, and building credit through bank accounts and credit cards.
“In the process, they have been able to help out their families,” Gonzales said. “So, without DACA, those young people lose all of those points of access.”
As a result, Gonzales said that DACA-recipients and their families would need to make serious adjustments if the repeal passes.
“What could potentially happen is really akin to somebody losing their jobs and sort of becoming injured and losing their jobs and then becoming evicted and losing everything,” he said.
Faust has been an outspoken advocate for undocumented students. Since the repeal, she has penned letters, appeared on national television, and met with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in D.C. On Thursday, Faust made her most recent trip to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Michael Bennett, according to University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson. Jackson wrote in an email that Faust focused those discussions on DACA and Temporary Protection Status, a legal designation given to individuals from certain countries who have fled armed conflict or natural disasters.
In a February interview, Faust said the University plans to continue advocating on behalf of undocumented students affected by the Trump administration’s repeal of DACA and removal of TPS protections for individuals from certain countries.
“We are committed to our undocumented students and their security and safety and their ability to continue with their programs of study and likewise, the TPS individuals—many of whom are employees—have for the most part been in the United States for a very long time,” Faust said.
Amid the uncertainty surrounding the deadline, Jackson reaffirmed the University’s commitment to its undocumented students.
“Although we know the current court rulings do not provide the permanent security that is needed, we encourage current DACA enrollees who are up for renewal to renew their status during this open window created by the injunction,” Jackson wrote.
Last year, the University hired Corral as a full-time staff attorney to serve undocumented students at Harvard. Corral is currently working at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program to renew as many DACA applications as possible in the window of opportunity offered by the court injunctions.
“On top of that, we’re going to do individual consultations with each person to figure out if there are any longer term remedies outside of DACA or TPS so that they don’t have to rely on sort of legal limbo indefinitely, so that’s going to be a huge undertaking,” Corral said.
Corral said he prioritized the DACA recipients whose status is expiring in 2018 and he is now moving on to those whose status will expire in 2019.
The Harvard Immigration Clinic also serves as a resource for undocumented students who are not protected by DACA, according to Corral. He said he encourages these students to meet with him in order to discuss possible legal solutions for protecting their status.
Debate in Congress surrounding a long-term solution for the program is still ongoing.
“Of course Trump wants to get his wall built and some anti-immigrant people want to restrict or sort of take away family-based immigration or change the way that we process applications, so that’s one side of the debate,” Corral said. “And then the other side of debate is a pathway to citizenship.”
Corral said he thinks it is urgent for Congress to develop what he called a “band-aid solution” for the DACA program in order to eliminate the phase of legal limbo that DACA recipients are currently experiencing before moving on to more comprehensive reform.
Gonzales said it is unlikely that Congress will pass any legislation on immigration on March 5, but the debate will still continue over the termination of DACA and permanent solutions for undocumented immigrants. He said the March 5 deadline, though, still has meaning to undocumented immigrants and their allies.
“March 5 is still in people’s minds and it is still the kind of statement to think about how Congress should be acting soon,” he said.
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @krisguillaume
—Staff writer Olivia C. Scott can be reached at email@example.com