Elizabeth Badger, a senior immigration attorney, gave the annual Joshua A. Guberman Lecture on how to protect protect Dreamers—young people given legal protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Speaking to more than 30 students and faculty, Badger described how changes in DACA policies could impact the Dreamers.
The event was sponsored by the legal studies program at Brandeis.
Dreamers, according to Badger, refer to the group of undocumented youths who entered the U.S. under the age of 18 and are currently pursuing education in the U.S. under DACA. First enacted by President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA was designed to help the Dreamers receive a renewable two-year period work permit that could lead to permanent resident status. President Donald Trump, however, announced in September that he would end the DACA program. The administration has “prevented people from filing applications,” Badger said. Beginning in March, the some DACA recipient lost their status because they were prevented from reapplying.
“A lot of kids are eligible for other pathways to permanent status, but they never have had the impetus to speak to counsel and probably didn’t have the money to speak to a lawyer,” Badger said.
KIND, Kids in Need of Defense, is a national legal services organization that provides representation to unaccompanied minors in defense of their deportation. Since “neither unaccompanied minors, nor anyone else in that matter, receives free counsel from the immigration court,” KIND strives to provide this service.
The DACA recession has prohibited many eligible Dreamers from applying for legitimate status. “If you are someone who came to the United States between the age of one and five years old, between 2002 and 2007, that group is not going to be able to apply. The people who are becoming 15 years old now can’t submit their application,” Badger said.
According to Badger, the DACA recession aggravates the situation of the Dreamers. She gave the example of Evelyn, a high school senior in Boston, came to America when she was two years old from Brazil. Her father suffers from brain cancer which has stopped him from working, leaving Evelyn to help handle their financial situation.
“Her access to higher education is a huge concern since she is ineligible for in-state tuition,” Badger said.
Undocumented people also struggle with restricted access to medical care, Badger said
“There barriers that undocumented communities that are something less than permanent residents face to mental health care and other types of specialized care is significant,” Badger said.
With regard to what the public can do, Badger argued, “I think the most important thing is changing public opinion through conversations.”
She continued, “Fifteen states sued 15 attorneys general of states who went against DACA and DACA expansion. So obviously, we need to change their thoughts and constituents.” Additionally, providing sustainable funding for legal services organizations will enable more Dreamers to petition for legal residency, according to Badger.
Badger stated that DACA benefits citizens as it will make the community safer. “[P]roviding work authorization will help generate more tax income for the government,” she said. She believes that financial security will enable more Dreamers to report crimes and assist police with investigations.
“If we are sincere about providing diversity, [then] providing undocumented individuals with access to higher education should be fundamental,” Badger said.