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Obama Marks 12 Years of DACA, Calls for Permanent Legislative Action

Former president reflects on DACA's impact while urging Congress to solidify protections for Dreamers.

Former President Barack Obama recently celebrated the 12th anniversary of his executive action on illegal immigration, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), despite previously asserting that he lacked the authority to unilaterally change immigration law. The program, announced on this day 12 years ago, has provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

“Twelve years ago today, my administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, giving undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children a pathway to citizenship,” Obama stated.

However, Obama highlighted the ongoing challenges faced by DACA recipients due to the program's temporary nature. “Today, most of the original Dreamers are grown. They’re serving their communities as teachers, doctors, lawyers, and having children of their own. But because the program that offered that protection remains temporary, they’re also living in fear of being sent back to a country many of them can’t even remember,” he noted.

Obama praised the Biden Administration for easing access to federal programs for DACA recipients, including healthcare through the Affordable Care Act. “The Biden Administration has made it easier for DACA recipients to access federal programs, including getting health care through the Affordable Care Act,” he added.

Nonetheless, Obama emphasized that a permanent solution is needed from Congress. “But until Congress acts, Dreamers will continue to live under a cloud of uncertainty. That’s why I’m calling on Congress once again to pass a permanent legislative solution for Dreamers – one that offers them a pathway to citizenship and makes our immigration system fairer, more efficient, and more just,” he urged.

Obama’s reflections come in stark contrast to his 2011 remarks, where he stated that he could not unilaterally suspend deportations through executive orders due to existing laws and constitutional mandates. “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive orders, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed … Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws,” he said during a town hall in Washington, D.C.

Despite these earlier statements, Obama proceeded with the DACA program, arguing for discretion in enforcement priorities, particularly for those without criminal backgrounds.

Obama’s anniversary remarks underscore the ongoing need for comprehensive immigration reform, highlighting the gap between temporary executive actions and the permanence that only legislative measures can provide. As Dreamers continue to contribute to their communities, the push for a lasting solution remains a critical issue for lawmakers to address.

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