From his University of Minnesota degree to his job as an insurance claims processor, Uriel Tlatenchi gives the credit to an Obama-era deportation reprieve program. Tlatenchi, who arrived from Mexico at age 9, was one of the first to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, five years ago.
Tlatenchi spoke at a state Capitol event Tuesday to mark the fifth anniversary of the program for immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children. It was one of a string of protests and news conferences nationally to bolster support for DACA as it faces a major challenge in the courts. Since the government began accepting applications on this date in 2012, DACA has granted 6,255 people in Minnesota two-year work permits and protection from deportation.
After vowing to end the program on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump signaled recently that his administration will keep it, at least for now. But a coalition of 10 states led by Texas gave him an ultimatum this summer: If he doesn’t deliver on that campaign promise by Sept. 5, they will sue.
At Tuesday’s event, DACA recipients and their supporters said the program has bettered their lives — and contributed to the state they call home. Minnesota, one of relatively few states that offers subsidized health insurance, in-state tuition and college scholarships for DACA recipients, has invested generously in these immigrants as well.
“DACA was one of our first victories,” said Tlatenchi, whose wife and 2-year-old son are U.S. citizens. “A weight lifted off my shoulders once I received my work permit.”
The event was hosted by Navigate, a Minnesota advocacy group for young immigrants, along with the local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the nonprofit Immigrant Law Center.
John Keller, the center’s executive director, said that in a recent survey of their 3,300 DACA clients — natives of Canada, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Mexico and dozens of other countries — they said the program changed their lives. More than 75 percent said they earn more, and the portion of those with health coverage jumped from 6 to 56 percent. Many have bought cars and homes, and gone on to college.
“It makes sense to keep these young Minnesotans here,” he said.
Educators from Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, both Minnesota Democrats, spoke in support of the program as well.
Tension over program
Nationally, more than 750,000 people participate in DACA. Trump had said he would eliminate the program on his first day in office. But after the election, he called DACA recipients “incredible kids” and said determining the future of the program is among the most difficult decisions facing him. In June, the administration scrapped an Obama deportation reprieve program for parents of citizens, but said it was leaving DACA alone.
The announcement angered some members of the president’s base, for whom the program is a symbol of executive overreach rewarding families who broke the country’s immigration laws. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and nine of his colleagues threatened legal action. It’s not clear whether the administration, which has energized supporters with its tougher approach to immigration, will defend the program in court.
Minnesota’s Lori Swanson was among 20 state attorneys general who wrote the administration urging it to stand by the program, calling it “a boon to the communities, universities, and employers with which these Dreamers are connected, and for the American economy as a whole.”
In Minnesota advocates point to an Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy study estimating that DACA recipients contribute as much as $15 million in local and state taxes.
The uncertainty has triggered several bipartisan efforts in Congress to protect DACA recipients, including last month’s DREAM Act, which would give them a path to citizenship.
At the Capitol event, advocates and DACA recipients called for a broader effort that would open a path to citizenship for those without legal status — the kind of comprehensive overhaul that has repeatedly floundered in Congress.
For most recipients, DACA does not open such a path to legalization. But for some married to U.S. citizens, the program does grant a chance at legal status. Tlatenchi, who is applying for a marriage-based green card, spoke about how his father was deported to Mexico twice.
“DACA has affected fewer than 800,000 people,” said Tlatenchi, “and there are 11 million of us.”