Deferred Action Policy for Immigrant Youth Raises Questions About Workers’ Rights
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is the biggest action taken to counter the countries broken immigration system in decades. It is not the biggest action taken overall when you consider the several billion dollar ramp up of border security and the takeoff of a record breaking deportation programs in recent years. Nonetheless, DACA is the first progressive policy move in decades and has the potential to help move more than 800,000 undocumented youth out of the shadows and into the authorized workforce.
Photo by Causa Oregon: Deferred Action advice session in Oregon.
Although this program is generally thought of as a program for students, because of age and education requirements, it can also be understood as a program for workers. In the process of applying for DACA, which will provide temporary immigration protection, applicants may also apply for work authorization (two separate applications). Not only will this program give students more opportunities for employments in their field of study, it will also bring young workers in line with labor regulations – about a half-million of whom are already in the workforce in low-wage jobs.
It will take months to process the applications and to know how many workers will benefit from newly authorized status. And many questions will not be answered until those first permits are granted. As questions arise it is important for us as Jobs with Justice to keep in mind the implications for workers’ rights. Those applying for DACA and applying for work authorization are using the I-765 work permit application, the same application already in use for a wide variety of immigrant workers. The assumption is that DACA applicants will be awarded the same Employment Authorization Document (EAD) given to others who use the I-765 form. If for some reason their EAD looks different, we must be vigilant about the possibility of profiling of these workers, like Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer the Governor has already indicated she intends to do.
In addition to the somewhat predictable reaction from Jan Brewer, there has been wide speculation about the access to driver’s licenses for these newly permitted workers. The speculations stems from the fact that state DMV laws vary on the specific types of federal immigration documents they accept as proof of legal presence for driver's license. In states where EAD or deferred action documentation are already accepted for driver’s license approval, access should be automatic. However in places like Arizona there is concern that politics will lead to construction of different sets of rights for these workers.
As we wait to see what workers’ permits will look like, it is important that to know that debates about drivers’ licenses have the potential to create false distinctions between the rights of the workers who obtained permits along with DACA and other workers with permits. If you have any concerns or questions about how to make sure DACA is not used as a tool to divide workers, please contact: Natalie Patrick-Knox, Natalie@jwj.org, 202-393-1044 x 240.