“Build the wall! Build the wall!” was a popular chant throughout Donald Trump’s road to the White House back in 2016, and immigration continues to be a hot topic in politics today. What you might not realize, however, is that immigration is no longer an issue solely played out in political debates or in the halls of Congress.
Immigration, specifically the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more commonly known as DACA, has been the center of legal battles in courtrooms across the nation. Specifically, immigrants who received authorization to work in the United States through DACA are suing companies who refuse to hire them because of their immigration status.
DACA was enacted in 2012 via an Executive Branch memorandum issued by then-President Barack Obama. DACA provided the opportunity for immigrants who were undocumented to be protected from deportation if the following criteria were met (according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services):
- Under age 31 as of June 15, 2012
- Arrived in the United States as a child under the age of 16
- Have continuously resided in the United States from June 15, 2007 through the present
- Had no lawful immigration status on or before June 15, 2012
- Are currently in school, or a high school graduate, or received GED
- Have not been convicted or a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not pose a risk to national security or public security
DACA was enacted to protect children who arrived in the United States as illegal immigrants because of the unlawful acts of one or both parents from deportation. Imagine you’re an 8-year-old who crossed the border from Mexico with your mother in 1995. Fast forward to 2012. You’re now 25 years old. You’re a high school graduate who’s never been in trouble with the law, but you work a job that pays you far below minimum wage under the table because your undocumented status prevents you from going to college or being protected by labor laws. Once DACA was enacted, you could be granted protection from deportation, enroll in college, and get a job with legal working status. You no longer had to live in fear of being deported because of a decision your mom made when you were 8.
There are roughly 800,000 other people like you in the United States who are now living legally in the United States with DACA status. Once you receive protection under DACA, you are required to renew your grant of deferred action under DACA every two years. This is the government’s way of ensuring you continue to be a law-abiding, contributing citizen.
New President, New Rules
In September 2017, President Donald Trump ended DACA. Initially, the expiration date was set as March 5, 2018, giving Congress six months to agree on how to move forward. I can’t remember the last time Congress agreed on anything – let alone in six-month’s time. Republicans wanted a broad solution as part of a complete overhaul of all immigration policies, while Democrats wanted to focus more specifically on an alternative to DACA. This shocking inability of Congress to agree was a large contributor to the government shutdown in January 2018.
DACA and what to do with the program as a whole has been front and center in the news for nearly a year. However, a lesser-known fight caused by the abrupt ending of DACA has been taking place in courtrooms across this country, and it’s the fight potential employees have brought against some of the biggest companies in the United States, such as Proctor & Gamble, Northwestern Mutual, and Merrill Lynch. Workers filing these lawsuits allege they were victims of discrimination by companies who refused to hire them because they were recipients of work authorization under DACA.
The companies have attempted to defend themselves with a variety of arguments, but most allege that there is no discrimination because they do hire immigrants who have a green card and have a limitation on duration of employment. Essentially, companies are no longer hiring those immigrants who are authorized under DACA because it’s a risk. If DACA is officially terminated and their employees’ authorizations expire, they cannot be renewed, and the employees will no longer be able to legally work in the United States. Their thought is: why invest in an employee when there’s no guarantee their immigration status will last long enough for that investment to pay off?
Well, so far, courts are answering that question by denying motions to dismiss filed by the companies and ruling that the workers do have a potential claim and the cases should move forward to trial. In such denials, federal judges in Florida and New York have both ruled that “Dreamers,” the nickname for those who have received protection under DACA, are a protected class, that you cannot refuse to hire someone simply because of how they received authorization to work in the United States.
While the cases currently being fought are nowhere near their conclusion and may even end up being settled, the rulings that have been laid down thus far seem to fall in the Dreamers’ favor. However, if one of these cases reaches the United States Supreme Court, we may see a completely different conclusion reached.