Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The DACA Debate: The Public vs. Elected Officials

What is DACA?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) was a policy created by President Obama in 2012 in response to the failed attempts at passing the DREAM Act: a policy that would provide a way for young illegal immigrants to become citizens. DACA was created in order to protect children whose parents had immigrated to the USA illegally, bringing their children with them. Under DACA those children brought to the U.S. illegally were given work permits and protected from deportation.

While DACA has benefited hundreds of thousands of immigrants throughout the US, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the rescission of the DACA program" on September 5, 2017 arguing that the program was an example of the Executive Branch overreaching their power and capabilities. Since Sessions' announcement no new applicants have been accepted, and many efforts have been made to abolish the DACA program. In 2019 a new act was introduced, similar to the DREAM Act, to provide a pathway to citizenship, however, it was never brought to a vote in congress. Because of lawsuits that have followed, the termination of DACA has been postponed temporarily.

Statistics gathered in June 2019 showed that approximately 660,880 DACA recipients throughout the U.S., and an additional 1,322,000 people who are currently eligible to receive DACA status. Most DACA recipients come from Latin America, with the majority coming from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru. A lack of hispanic and or immigrant representatives, as well as a discrepancy between voter and representative policy opinions, could result in a misrepresentation of the public majority policy views regarding the continuation of the DACA program.

Dreamers Forced Into the Public

Daca applications and application renewals require recipients to provide current contact information to the U.S. government. Doing so forces recipients into a vulnerable position of which the government has control. Additionally, the forced transparency of the situation has resulted in DACA recipients being public about their opinions and disagreement with the current efforts to abolish the DACA program. 

Lack of Representation

Descriptive Representation

Political scientists use the term "descriptive representation" to explain the idea that political representatives should in some way mirror or represent their constituents. That being said, 13-14 percent of the U.S. population is immigrants with 44 percent of those immigrants being Hispanic or Latino. In congress, approximately "13 percent of voting members are immigrants or children of immigrants" which is close to the U.S. population percentage, however, the majority of immigrant members of congress are from European countries. 

The idea behind descriptive representation is that if congressional representatives share characteristics and identities with their voting population, then they will advocate for that population's best interest. Without that representation in congress, any minority group is put at risk, as in the case of DACA recipients. The lack of representatives who can identify in some way to DACA recipients has led to a disregard of the consequences for the 800,000 youth and young adults this program reaches.

Substantive Representation

Another aspect of representation that is important to note, is that of substantive representation. This refers to the idea that elected officials should, more or less, hold the same policy preferences as their voting population. in the case of DACA, both the recipients of DACA and U.S. citizens believe that the program should continue, and that immigration is a positive thing for the United States. A recent poll showed that 84 percent of U.S. citizens support the program, and 66 percent think the program should continue.  These percentages are not representative of the opinions of elected officials.

There is a big divide among Republicans and Democrats on the matter of DACA. Eighty-two percent of Democrats believe that a path should be made for illegal immigrants to become citizens; while only 48 percent of Republicans agree. Even though many Republicans support strict immigratino, they also support the continuation of the DACA program. If the Supreme Court rules to abolish the DACA program it would not be a substantive representation of the public's views regarding the policy.

The lack of descriptive and substantive representation, not only for DACA recipients, but for all immigrants and U.S. citizens, has led to the current debate over the program. As the debate continues, DACA recipients and supporters will not only continue to fight for the continuation fo the program, but also for a more accurate representation of their views by elected officials.

JoLynn Perez is Senior at Brigham Young University studying Spanish and International Development.

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