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For DACA Applicants, Community Support Can Make a Difference

When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was announced in 2012, an estimated 1.76 million undocumented youth were eligible to apply. But only 69% of the immediately eligible youth have secured DACA status. A new paper in Urban Geography co-authored by Professor Els de Graauw (Baruch College) sheds light on the challenges that line the path to DACA.

Previous research explaining DACA application rates has focused on immigrants’ “individual characteristics – including national origin, gender, age, educational attainment, and income,” the authors wrote. This research asked a different question: How do community factors impact whether and how someone applies for DACA?

Interviews with 32 DACA applicants in the Houston metropolitan area – some living in diverse, progressive neighborhoods in the city, others from more white and conservative outlying areas – found that local contexts made a huge difference in applicants’ awareness of DACA, their access to information, and support for the application process.

All of the study respondents said that DACA’s temporary protections would help them personally and professionally. DACA status shields undocumented immigrants from deportation, provides work permits that can lead to better jobs, and allows recipients to get drivers’ licenses, thereby reducing anxiety over potential encounters with police.

“Given that respondents had to navigate a metropolitan area where multicultural diversity exists so closely along xenophobia and racism, almost everyone we interviewed had a story to tell about a negative interaction with local police, employers, school and university staff, and even friends,” the researchers wrote.

But the study also found that residents of outlying areas had school staff who were either unfamiliar with the program, unwilling to help them, or downright hostile when they sought information or advice. The suburbanites had fewer local organizations to turn to for help, and more transportation challenges when it came to traveling into the city to get help. They were also more likely to hire expensive attorneys or “notarios” (individuals who guide applicants through the DACA process for a fee). 

The Trump Administration had sought to shut DACA down, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 18, 2020, that it could not immediately do so