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The Department of Homeland Security has adopted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, giving undocumented parents a means to stay in the U.S. This comes as immigration reform legislation remains stalled in Congress.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009-2013 American Community Survey (ACS) estimated 40,342,000 immigrants are currently living in the United States with 4,188,000 immigrants living in Texas.

Bexar County houses 230,500 immigrants, while UTSA’s spring 2015 enrollment statistics report 1,582 enrolled international students. Despite a large immigrant population, policy makers’ continued efforts toward a unified consensus on immigration reform remains stagnant.

DACA a key contributor in immigration reform, allows undocumented individuals and undocumented individuals who were in the process of being deported the opportunity to apply for “deferred action,” temporarily delaying their deportation. Beginning in 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted individuals who met DACA requirements deferred action status, which allowed undocumented persons to apply for a 2-year workers’ permit that afforded them employment opportunities within the U.S.

“The situations for many of our young people who are struggling are without the official documents who are here on campus and our community and our country. So it’s to try and dispel some of the anti-immigrant that classifies everybody the same way and stigmatize them as evil people,” said Dr. Harriet Romo. “They’re committed people and many of them have been here a long time. Their children have grown up here and gone to our k-12 schools so it’s informational and just to get people involved and aware of the issues.”

Previous DACA guidelines required individuals to be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012, have arrived in the U.S. below age 16, have lived continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 and been enrolled in school or have graduated from high school. The DACA program, however, did not extend to parents, causing some concern for undocumented youth. If an individual qualified for DACA but was still in need of parental support, having their parents deported would create issues, such as safety and living arrangements. Furthermore, natural born citizens to undocumented parents faced a similar risk of having their parents deported leaving youth with no financial support system.

Late last November, President Obama, in attempts to remedy this potential problem, stated the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would cease deportation of undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and parents of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in attempts to further immigration reform. Among Obama’s executive actions were plans to increase citizenship education and public awareness of lawful permanent residents, improve modernization of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa programs, and expand the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals.

“DAPA is huge because it will benefit millions of people — parents in particular — who have been living in fear,” said UTSA student Diego Mancha. “I think that it’s a really big victory, but I don’t think it’s nearly done. It’s not comprehensive or large enough to cover everyone — there’s still room for improvements to be made.”

DACA’s expansion, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), would allow parents to stay within the U.S. under similar requirements as DACA. The revised program would eliminate the age requirement, making anyone born before or after June 16, 1981 an eligible candidate for DAPA. Additionally, individuals must have been living continuously in the U.S. since January 1, 2010 and be a parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and neither committed any felony nor some specific misdemeanors. Obama’s expanded program would also increase workers’ permits from two years to three years.

Still, an immigrant problem persists as obtaining birth documents and generating the money required to obtain the permits is difficult. Although problems may arise, President Obama’s executive orders addressing immigration policy are designed to focus on deporting felons and keeping families intact rather than deporting all illegal aliens.

“At least to have people sit down and rationally talk about what kinds of programs work, what kinds of changes in the law would be effective — there are a lot of things on the table,” said Dr. Romo. “(Immigration reform) is very complex and it’s hard to figure out what reforms will be most effective. We’ve had efforts in the past, we just need people to come together and talk and act.”

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