UC, ASUC leaders recommend reforms to Biden administration’s DACA update

photo of UC Berkeley's campus
Charlene Wang/Staff
UC and ASUC officials responded to the Biden administration's proposal regarding the DACA program, advocating for greater accessibility and policy reforms.

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Following legal challenges to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy, the Biden administration has proposed a rule that would preserve the program as the search for a permanent solution continues.

The DACA policy was created in 2012 by former UC President Janet Napolitano, who was serving as U.S. Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security at the time. The policy was intended to ensure that noncitizens who came to the U.S. as children were not removed if they met certain criteria and didn’t warrant further action.

The resulting program has successfully deferred the removal of more than 825,000 noncitizens, with 3,460 being enrolled in the UC system each year. As a result, the university has been a strong proponent of the program, noted campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

“UC Berkeley benefits from the life experience of each student, faculty, and staff member who comes to our campus as a participant of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program,” Gilmore said in an email. “As a public institution of higher education, we know the transformational impact education has not just on the individual’s life, but also the lives of their family and community members.”

In 2017, Napolitano and the UC Board of Regents won a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the DACA program. The university has recently come out in support of the Biden administration’s proposal to “preserve” and “fortify” the program, though not without some proposals of their own, according to a letter they sent to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS.

Rather than simply supporting the DACA policy, the university — in addition to campus’s ASUC — is calling for improvements.

In the letter, UC President Michael Drake and the 10 UC chancellors recommended the alteration of date and age-based eligibility criteria.

Such criteria excludes from the program those who have not continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, and those who were not physically present in the country on June 15, 2012, when DACA was established. According to the letter, it also excludes those who were born before June 16, 1981, or are younger than 15 years old.

The letter also recommends that the $85 DACA application fee and $410 employment authorization fee should be reduced or eliminated, given the economic burdens the fees impose on applicants. Alternatively, the Department of Homeland Security should implement a need-based waiver for “deserving populations,” and extend the renewal period from two to five years, so such fees are required less often.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Riya Master, ASUC Senator Griselda Vega Martinez and UC Undocumented Coalition Representative for UC Berkeley Giovanna Muñoz also sent a letter to USCIS Monday, addressing several problems they saw with new DACA requirements, according to ASUC Federal Government Relations Director Bailey Henderson.

Henderson said the changes to the program include the separation of the DACA application from employment authorization. Although it provides flexibility to applicants, those who may need employment authorization to work may not apply for financial reasons.

Even those who do apply for work authorization are not guaranteed to receive it, given that they must demonstrate “economic need,” a phrase that the letter notes “appears intentionally vague.”

“It just allows USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security a lot of leeway in determining whether or not someone gets a DACA application approved,” Henderson said. “If you match all the requirements USCIS reserves the right to prevent you from getting DACA in the first place.”

USCIS also reserves the right to terminate one’s DACA status without advanced notice if any of the requirements are violated, Henderson added. The letter urges USCIS to make notices of intent to terminate standard practice.

Ultimately, Henderson said, making DACA more accessible to undocumented students is essential as it is often their only way of accessing federal programs. Currently, he noted, only 3% of the total undocumented population is able to pursue higher education.

Though both letters note the Biden administration’s work thus far, they agree that much more needs to be done to secure and retain rights for the undocumented community.

“DACA, while a step in the right direction, is not the only solution,” Gilmore said in the email. “Comprehensive immigration reform, an effort that we fully support, is also needed.”

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.