On Monday, April 18th, the Supreme Court will hear a case that will have an enormous and direct impact on over 20,000 people living in Idaho as well as millions of others throughout the United States. Depending on the Supreme Court’s decision, these individuals will have an opportunity to obtain a work permit and will be able to work legally. As long as they apply and meet certain criteria, they will be granted “deferred status” and, as long as they stay out of trouble, they will have some protection from deportation.
First, a brief background. In 2012, a program called DACA was initiated. DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who were under the age of 16 when they last entered the U.S., graduated from high school in the U.S. or met other narrow criteria, and who passed a thorough background check the ability to apply for deferred status and a work permit. This allowed many individuals who had been brought into the U.S. as children the opportunity to legally work in the U.S. Those who received deferred status had to renew it every two years, and had to continue to stay out of trouble. DACA still applies for individuals who entered the U.S. prior to June 5, 2012, and who were under the age of 16 at the time. Unfortunately for those brought over as children, it is not a pathway to citizenship or even a green card. It doesn’t come close to doing what President Reagan’s immigration plan did in the 1980’s. Nevertheless, it has blessed the lives of many young people in and around Eastern Idaho and the rest of the United States.
While comprehensive immigration reform was a major priority for both parties following the last presidential election, very little progress was made in actual reform. Tired of the lack of reform, in November 2014 President Obama announced the DAPA program, which would give the parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, already living in the United States, deferred status and a work permit, as long as they applied and met certain criteria. The timeline for the DACA program was also extended, and the renewal period for both DACA and DAPA was changed to three years instead of two. By giving deferred status to undocumented immigrants who pass a background check and have more significant ties to the U.S., the federal government would be able to more easily focus its deportation proceedings on individuals who commit crimes and who are a danger to others.
The next month, several states sued, putting a halt to both DAPA and the DACA extension, as well as the three year renewal period. These states arranged to have the case heard in front of a federal judge known for his anti-immigrant views. The judge decided as expected, and the decision was appealed. On Monday, almost a year-and-a-half after DAPA was announced, the Supreme Court will hear the case and, hopefully, will issue a final decision on the matter. The decision is not expected until, at the earliest, June. Even then, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of DAPA and DACA extension, it will probably be an additional wait before the federal government is prepared to process applications.
How does this affect Idaho? If DAPA and the DACA extension become law, 20,000 undocumented immigrants, most of them young parents, will be able to obtain work permits and will be able to work legally. They’ll be able to work better-paying jobs, eliminating the need for their U.S. citizen children to be on food stamps, Medicaid, or other government programs. Since their jobs will be legal, there’s a greater chance they’ll contribute to and help pay for Social Security. There will be less concern about a deportation splitting a family up.
Idaho businesses, and especially Idaho farms and dairies, will be able to flourish. Make no mistake, many of these businesses currently employ undocumented immigrants, knowingly or not. But undocumented immigrants who have deferred status and a work permit won’t be deported as a result of workplace ICE raids. Idaho businesses won’t be decimated by these raids if their workers have work permits due to DACA and DAPA.
Many of the people who will be affected are married to U.S. citizens, but are unable to get green cards. Once they’ve been granted deferred status, their U.S. citizen spouses and children will have less to worry about.
DAPA won’t protect undocumented immigrants if they commit a violent crime. It won’t give them a pathway to citizenship. But it will provide a better income for their families, including many U.S. citizens.