ATLANTA — Eleven years is a long time for people who were brought unlawfully to the U.S. as children to have permission to stay but no path to citizenship, immigration advocates say.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era policy, is marking 11 years of existence. More than half of that time has been spent in a six-year legal battle with the issue currently caught up in federal court.
As the issue weaves through the court system, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have not been accepting new applicants leaving out an estimated 400,000 people who would be eligible for the authorization otherwise, according to NBC News.
Some people within Georgia's immigration advocacy community say there’s no sign of the needle moving in the near future.
“We’re forced to live in two-year increments where you don’t know if two years from now I will be able to continue living the life I’ve built for myself here in this country," said Rafael Aragon.
Aragon works with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), a nonprofit dedicated to engaging the Latinx community in the civic process and developing leaders within the community.
He’s also a DACA recipient, or DREAMer, and says the program impacts at least 20,000 people right here in Georgia.
Aldo Mendoza is one of them.
“Right when I renewed about two years ago, I got married and we had a kid. So a lot depends on me to be able to legally work," said Mendoza.
DACA allows approved applicants who pass a criminal background check to be given work authorization and the ability to obtain a driver's license. It does not provide a path to citizenship or permanent residency status in the U.S.
Every two years DACA enrollees are required to renew at a cost of $495. About 580,000 current recipients have been able to continue to renew their DACA status, according to NBC News.
However, because the program is being litigated at the highest level — many people like Luis are in a sort of immigration purgatory. Luis asked 11Alive not to share his full name.
He will graduate from a private college next year but after that, he may have to leave the country he’s lived in for most of his life.
“If something doesn’t change in the system here, I will look into post-grad programs either in Canada or Europe," said Luis.
Jobeth Allen works with DACA students by helping them navigate renewing their status and getting into colleges.
She says losing people like Luis will drain the country’s brain trust and workforce and will have wide-ranging impacts on everyone.
“He’s absolutely someone that we need. We also have students that are in plumbing programs, electrician programs and we need them as well," said Allen.
As DACA faces its legal challenges, U.S. House Democrats are working to pass new immigration policy, which could provide a pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Proposed legislation must also pass several legislative hurdles.