This week marks the third anniversary of the announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA. The program is designed to provide temporary permission to stay in the country to young people who were brought to the United States by their relatives as undocumented children. It allows them to complete their education, as well as gives them an opportunity to increase their already significant contributions to their communities by providing them work permits and allowing them to apply for driver’s licenses.
As of March 31, almost 800,000 individuals had applied, and more than 80 percent had been approved to receive benefits. Florida has the fifth-largest group of DACA beneficiaries with 26,522 approved cases. While that number may seem small in comparison to the numbers registered in California or Texas, it nevertheless reflects Florida’s large immigrant population and the diverse and plural demographics of the state.
But there are many more young immigrants who have not yet applied for DACA. This may be because of misinformation, difficulties in complying with school enrollment requirements, lack of proper identification or other kinds of necessary documents, as well as financial limitations.
Several non-governmental institutions and consular offices from various countries have joined efforts to encourage more individuals to apply.
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Mexico’s consulates, for instance, have engaged in a massive effort to publicize DACA and have helped individuals overcome difficulties in meeting the requirements either by issuing them proper documentation or helping applicants enroll in education programs.
We have also provided scholarships through our IME Becas program. These efforts have resulted in the approval of over half a million applications from Mexicans nationwide. In the case of Florida, the Mexican consulates in Miami and Orlando have held more than 150 events and helped almost 8,000 people. But we still want to reach every young man and woman eligible to benefit from DACA.
We also must overcome any potential confusion about the temporary suspension of the expansion of DACA and the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program (DAPA). We need to send a clear message that DACA is still being granted according to its original terms and guidelines and that those with initial two-year permissions that are about to expire can also apply for renewal.
They should begin the renewal process 120 days to 150 days before the expiration date of their original temporary permission. Mexico’s consulates will continue the crucial work of reaching out to young people in order to make them aware of the benefits of the program, help them meet the requirements, and encourage them to apply.
Southern Florida, like many other regions of this country that have benefited from the hard work and multiple contributions of immigrants, should celebrate the third anniversary of this life-changing program.
José Antonio Zabalgoitia is Consul General of Mexico in Miami. He also serves, in his individual capacity, on the board of Americans for Immigrant Justice.