President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions,. And the tech industry is not happy about it.
Several tech execs have, which allows some 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children a chance to work and study without fear of deportation. So what is DACA and why are tech executives speaking out against its repeal? To help put this new in context, CNET has put together this FAQ.
What is the DACA program?
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program was established in 2012 by President Barack Obama to allow young people who immigrated illegally to the US as children temporary protection from deportation as well as permits to be able to work legally in the US. It’s estimated that about 1.3 million people are eligible for DACA, but there are only about 800,000 people who are registered under the program.
In order to qualify for DACA immigrants must have been in the US before 2007 and have been 15 or younger when they arrived. And they had to be younger than 31 when DACA was created in June 2012. There are other requirements for qualifying as well, such as they cannot have a criminal record and they must be enrolled in high school or have a high school diploma or equivalent. And in order to get the designation, you have to apply. So there are likely many people who have never applied even though they qualify.
The permit, which can be renewed every two years, will no longer be available to new applicants. People who are already enrolled in the program can continue to stay and work in the US until their status expires. And for those whose status expires between now and March 5, they can reapply for another two-year DACA permit before October 5. But for anyone whose DACA status expires after March 6, they are out of luck unless Congress acts.
Why did the Trump Administration end the program?
As part of his strong stance against illegal immigration, President Trump made a campaign promise in 2016 to repeal DACA. Also, attorneys general from several states including Arkansas, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia threatened to sue the government if Trump did not rescind the order.
Sessions said in a press conference that the program represented an overreach of executive power and stated that Congress and not the president should enact immigration reform. He said that the existing policy was vulnerable to legal and constitutional challenges and that the agency couldn’t defend the previous administration’s “disrespect for the legislative process.”
“If we were to keep the Obama Administration’s executive amnesty policy, the likeliest outcome is that it would be enjoined,” he said. As a result, “The Department of Justice has advised the president and the Department of Homeland Security that DHS should begin an orderly, lawful wind down, including the cancellation of the memo that authorized this program.”
Why hasn’t Congress already passed legislation to protect these people?
Congress has tried for 15 years to find a solution to this issue. In 2001, Sens. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, and Republican Orrin Hatch from Utah introduced the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — otherwise known as the DREAM Act, — to provide a path toward citizenship to children who had grown up in the US after being brought to this country by their parents who immigrated illegally.
These children became known as Dreamers.
The legislation didn’t pass in 2001 and subsequent attempts to pass it have stalled. In 2012, President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to provide temporary protection to these so-called Dreamers.
When DACA was created, Democrats hoped Congress would pass a broader immigration package that would include a path toward citizenship for Dreamers. In 2013, the Senate passed a bill, but the House never acted on it.
Unfortunately, since then the divide between Democrats and Republicans on immigration has widened. So DACA, which was only meant as a temporary place-holder, has become a more permanent policy.
What are tech companies saying about it?
Large technology companies have gotten more involved politically on immigration issues since 2013 when Congress failed to adopt comprehensive immigration reform. Tech companies see immigrants as important members of American workforce, and that includes these young immigrants who have grown-up in the US and no other country as home.
As a result, the industry, along with many other immigration advocates, has taken up the issue of fighting to protect the DACA program. A collection of tech’s biggest names, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Uber CTO Thuan Pham and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and more than 300 others, signed a group letter last week to Trump, as well as leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate, urging them to protect DACA.
“Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs. They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage,” the reader reads.
Several tech leaders have also issued statements of their own on the issue. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post last week called Dreamers the “future of our country and our economy.”
Following the DOJ’s announcement today, Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed dismay in an email to Apple employees that was obtained by CNET.
“I am deeply dismayed that 800,000 Americans — including more than 250 of our Apple coworkers — may soon find themselves cast out of the only country they’ve ever called home,” Cook wrote.
Why do they care so much about this issue?
It’s hard to estimate how many DACA recipients actually work in tech. But a report issued by Fwd.us, an immigration advocacy group founded by Zuckerberg, found that around 91 percent of DACA recipients are employed. Ending the program would result in roughly 30,000 individuals each month losing eligibility to work.
Another study by the Center for American Progress estimated that the loss of all DACA workers would reduce US gross domestic product by $433 billion over the next 10 years.
That doesn’t show directly what the effect would be on the tech sector, given that not every DACA recipient is employed in technology. But given that most DACA recipients are in their early to mid-20s, according to an August 2017 survey published by Tom Wong of UC San Diego, it’s safe to say many of these young people are just starting their careers.
A 2015 study by the Institute for Immigration, Globalization and Education at the University of California shows that one-third of undocumented immigrants were majors in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, or STEM. But this estimate does not break down how many people majoring in STEM are DACA recipients. Also, some DACA recipients do not continue their education into college.
Could tech companies that have Dreamers working for them already rework their paperwork to get them visas to continue working legally?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Immigration experts say the main challenge for people who have been undocumented in the US is that they accrue penalties the longer they’ve been in the US unlawfully. What’s more, in order to make their immigration status “right” they often are required to leave the country until the paperwork is sorted out. But because they have lived in the US illegally, they could be barred from re-entering the US based on these penalties. For instance, living in the US unlawfully for six months would trigger a three-year bar on re-entering the US. And if you’ve lived in the US illegally for a year or more you’re barred from coming back to the US for 10 years. Of course, every situation is different, which is why anyone in this situation should seek the advice of an immigration attorney.
Now that tech companies are speaking out on this issue, will they be able to influence Congress on this issue?
The DOJ has given Congress six months to come up with legislation to fix this problem. But given the history of the DREAM Act and other attempts to pass a law protecting children of undocumented immigrants, it’s hard to be overly optimistic they can pull something together in the next six months. That said, there are already efforts in the House and the Senate to draft legislation.
It’s also hard to say whether the tech industry’s involvement in this fight will sway Congress. I’ll be exploring this issue in a piece later this week. So stay tuned.