DACA and the American Dream Essay

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The U.S. Supreme Court is currently examining its fundamental status of being a nation built by immigrants while maintaining the laws and ideals it upholds as a democratic nation (Jawetz, 2019). Immigration policy, which is fair to existing citizens, must uphold the rule of law while remaining functional and humane (Shachar, 2011). Upholding the law entails clear procedures and manageable pathways for immigration, yet just punishment for those who violate the laws (Motomura, 2020). The emotional pleas from undocumented young adults caught in legal limbo are difficult to witness. They were smuggled into the U.S. by their families as children and now they fear deportation to countries unknown to them (Gonzales, Brant, & Roth, 2019). The ethics of this dispute compete in a society where economic considerations and laws most often prevail (Hing, 2015). Yet sympathies reach widely, as most Americans are supportive of those affected to remain in the U.S. (Wilkinson, 2018). It is imperative to uphold and honor the law to remain a civilized society, although laws must evolve to accommodate societal issues and a continuous assimilation of cultures (Alba, 2020). This paper seeks to explore changes in immigration policy made by the Trump administration and its effects on both citizens and undocumented immigrants. Also considered is whether aiding undocumented youth is an asset or a detriment to the U.S. Finally, recommendations for this specific immigration policy are considered.

Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration is often the only path for individuals who feel forced to escape the adverse living conditions of their homelands. Yet it places individuals in vulnerable living and working conditions in the U.S. The process of illegal immigration creates cheap workers who must tread carefully through their everyday lives under the fear and threat of deportation (Chiswick & Miller, 2014). The election of President Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric has furthered the public notion undocumented migrants are most often hardened criminals, although the U.S.-born population is more likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated (Landgrave & Nowrasteh, 2017).

Undocumented migrants cannot access basic social entitlements; they lack fundamental rights and have little to no recourse for legal protections. The status of undocumented immigrants forces them to face several levels of social inequalities (Chavez, 1998). Undocumented workers are unable to enter the formal workforce and must remain in low-wage jobs with little opportunity for advancement, career changes, or development of their employment skills (Waters & Pineau, 2016).

Inclusion of Undocumented Children in the U.S. Public Educational System

Fortunately, there is a legal right for undocumented immigrants to education, promoting the inclusion of undocumented children in U.S. public schools. Ruling children are “persons” under the 14th Amendment in 1982, the Supreme Court made it unconstitutional for states to deny children access to public education in Plyler v. Doe (Soltero, 2009). Although education is not a fundamental human right, the court ruled denying a K-12 education to undocumented children created a “lifetime of hardship” and put them on a trajectory of becoming permanent “underclass” individuals. Undocumented youth, brought here at an early age are not U.S. citizens, but they grow up identifying with the American culture. The ruling in Plyler v. Doe gave undocumented children the same constitutional rights as native-born children in the K-12 educational system (Menjivar, 2008). The rationale at the time was the perceived cost to the nation and to the undocumented children, in denying education versus the actual educational costs needed (Yates, 2004). Since the passage of this law, nearly 40 years ago, the attainment of a college education has become increasingly instrumental in accessing the job market and securing a sustainable salary. These students eventually face higher educational barriers, social and emotional implications, and legal and economic hardship because of their immigration status (Waters & Pineau, 2016).

Higher Educational Opportunities for the Undocumented in California

California state legislation has attempted to be responsive to these changes in the economy. Assembly Bill 540 helped college students who graduated from Californian high schools become exempt from paying out-of-state tuition (Rico & CSU Fresno, 2012). Expansions to the availability of education are evidence immigrants have received additional rights, but they are ultimately bound to their lack of citizenship. Their lack of inclusion in American political and civil society extends beyond the attainment of education, as students face the lack of judicial and social rights upon graduation (Gandara & Contreras, 2009). Unlike their parents who never experienced rights as citizens, undocumented children have access to the U.S. educational system; and those who excel are welcomed into the collegiate system. However, once finished with the educational system, these individuals are unable to utilize their talents due to their immigration status (Garcia, 2010). This immigration policy subsidizes a significant investment in developing a trained workforce of immigrants who are at risk of exploitation in the U.S. labor market (Bansak, 2016). Ultimately, these students will join their undocumented parents, lacking legal access to all rights granted to Americans, after experiencing education and socialization in the U.S. This represents a restrictive immigration system working against the increasingly well-intended civil rights benefits for undocumented children (Jawetz, 2019). All children eventually become adults and ultimately face being unable to legally able to work in the nation. High-achieving students who may have benefited from college opportunities in progressive states with sanctuary cities face dead-ends in the labor market, causing psychological distress (Cebula, 2016).

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Undocumented Immigrants and the Need for Immigration Legislation

Government officials now recognize providing education without a path toward legalization left children unprepared for undocumented life as adults. One measure toward rectification of these policies is the failed DREAM ACT (short for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which first originated in 2001 (Coronado, 2012). This legislation would have granted unauthorized immigrants who met certain eligibility criteria a conditional resident status, followed by permanent residency after six years. The DREAM Act was inactive for several years due to the subsequent terrorist acts of 9/11 (Swain, 2007). Since 2007, multiple versions of the bill failed to pass in Congress, including the failure of the DREAM Act of 2010 in the Senate. The bill cleared the House of Representatives but was five votes short in the Senate, despite bipartisan support. In his remarks to the media in 2011, the Obama administration stated there was nothing he could do and urged Congress to come up with a solution for the “DREAMers” (those who would meet the criteria of the DREAM Act) (Batzke, (2018).

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act

With the DREAM Act legislation seemingly in a perpetual uncertain state for many years while in Congress, the Obama administration turned toward efforts to legalize DREAMers brought to the U.S. by their undocumented parents. In 2012, the administration utilized its prosecutorial discretion of the executive authority to implement a policy called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) (Olivas, 2012). DACA granted DREAMers a two-year, renewable period of deferred action from deportation, as well as temporary work authorization.

DREAMers brought to the U.S. before age 16 were entitled to remain in the U.S. legally without fear of deportation. DACA did not provide DREAMers with a path to U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residence, inciting criticism from immigrant rights advocates. DACA provided undocumented students the right to access public universities across the nation, along with legal work authorization permits, helping to ensure the financial ability to pursue higher education. Additionally, DREAMers could access educational grants and loans, qualify for state-subsidized health care, and obtain government-issued I.D. or driver’s licenses. This provided recipients the opportunity to legally drive to work or school, open bank accounts, apply for housing, and access a variety of other tasks requiring a government-issued I.D. DACA recipients, on a case-by-case basis, also could leave the U.S. and reenter lawfully, unlike undocumented immigrants. To qualify for DACA, applicants must have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, be under the age of 31, and file an application and pay a fee of $500.

Demographics of DACA Recipients

DACA recipients are on average 25 years old and although some were born in Central and South America, Asia, and the Caribbean, the majority were born in Mexico (Batalova, Hooker, Capps, & Bachmeier, 2014). To qualify for DACA, recipients must be in high school or already hold a high school diploma or G.E.D. If there is proof of service in the military, they are exempt from the education requirement. Anyone with a serious misdemeanor conviction, a criminal history, or a felony record is ineligible for the program. A 2010 report by the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center focused on the potential earnings of DREAMers over their lives, refuting the public notion they would be a burden on the economy with an estimate of the $1.4 trillion dollars of potential economic contribution to the nation.

The DACA Controversy

Shortly after DACA began, a group of states filed a lawsuit to block DACA, arguing a president lacks the legal authority to enforce immigrant legislation and those states would suffer a financial strain to implement the program. A federal district judge did side with the states, issuing a temporary block against Obama's actions. The administration appealed the decision, but a three-judge panel voted 2 to 1 to uphold the lower court's decision to block Obama's actions. This led the Obama Administration to appeal to the Supreme Court. The court issued a stalemate leaving the lower court's ruling in place, permanently blocking the president's immigration actions. The Supreme Court’s decision does not impact the initial DACA program applicants but denies protections for the more than four million undocumented immigrants who could have qualified for Obama's programs, leaving them at risk of deportation and unable to obtain work permits. Deporting all DACA immigrants would require extreme financial expansions in immigration enforcement operations and estimates suggest the US economy would suffer a $1 trillion loss (Gitis, 2016).

DACA and the Trump Administration

The Trump administration is grappling with an overabundance of immigration challenges as migrants inundate the U.S. borders seeking legalized asylum. Meanwhile, the children of undocumented migrants await their fates. The Supreme Court heard arguments last November, concerning the Trump administration’s claim that Obama’s immigration policy reflects a separation of powers and is against constitutional authority. The nation awaits a Supreme Court decision while the Trump administration emphasizes the criminalization of people who migrate illegally. DACA supporters claim, despite the legality of Obama’s policy, the incorporation of the labor efforts of undocumented migrants factors into the U.S. economy.

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DACA and the American Dream Essay. (2023, December 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/daca-and-the-american-dream-essay/
“DACA and the American Dream Essay.” Edubirdie, 13 Dec. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/daca-and-the-american-dream-essay/
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