How Does DACA Work? The Program Successfully Protected Thousands Of Immigrants Until Now

Zach Gibson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

You've probably heard a lot of talk recently about DACA and why Trump's decision to either extend or terminate the program is so controversial. If you don't know exactly what DACA is, you're not alone — immigration policy can be pretty complicated. But taking the time to understand this policy is incredibly important because DACA affects the lives of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children, through no fault of their own, and now play a big role in contributing to American society. There are some key things you should know about how DACA works, and how Trump's decision to end it could devastate thousands of families who came to America in search of a better life.

DACA is short for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and was implemented through an executive order signed by President Obama in 2012 in an effort to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Congress had been trying to pass a similar bill, called The DREAM Act, for over a decade, and after numerous failed attempts, Obama signed DACA to provide an opportunity for immigrants who met certain criteria to start a new life in the United States. These immigrants are now often referred to as "Dreamers."

According to the executive order, DACA specifically protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were under the age of 16. They must have arrived in the country before June 15, 2007, and they must have been under the age of 30 when the policy was enacted. They also must be attending school or serving in the armed forces.

Previously, this population lived in constant fear of being discovered by American immigration authorities and sent back to their home country, where many of them had escaped war, poverty, or persecution as children. After DACA was enacted, these Dreamers had the opportunity to apply for enrollment in the program to avoid deportation. Applicants were vetted for any criminal history, and if they met the criteria, they could be eligible for essentials like a drivers license, college enrollment, and a temporary work permit that could be renewed after two years.

To this date, 787, 580 Dreamers have enrolled in the program. The majority of them are from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

While DACA doesn't provide a pathway to legalization (that's what the DREAM Act was supposed to do), it does protect young immigrants who were brought to American illegally through no fault of their own from being deported, and allows them to become functional, contributing members of society by going to school, serving the country, or starting a career.

The Trump Administration's decision now puts these Dreamers in limbo. Because DACA was passed through an executive order, and not legislation, it could very easily be undone by an incoming President. Given Trump's decision to terminate DACA, it's now up to Congress to provide a permanent solution that will ensure that these young immigrants can remain in the country they have become a part of.