By: Rachel L. MSW, LMSW
Social Work Chats returns to Twitter Monday January 28th at 8PM (EST). The topic will be Immigration and the DREAM Act and we will be joined special guest Melinda K. Lewis, LMSW .
Melinda K. Lewis is an adjunct professor at the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas where she teaches Advanced Policies and Programs and Advanced Advocacy and Community Practice. She also works as a consultant and lobbyist. You can read more about Melinda and her work at her fantastic blog, Classroom to Capital.
A Few Points on Immigration and The DREAM Act
In the spring of 2012 President Obama issued a memorandum, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that directed US Customs and Border Protection, US Citizenship and Immigrations Services, and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use prosecutorial discretion when pursuing cases against undocumented immigrants. Those requesting consideration under DACA had to meet the following requirements:
Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or your lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
For years there has been a great deal of debate in the US as to how to reform immigration law. In 2001 Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch introduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act or what is more commonly known as the DREAM Act. The bill has been re-introduced several times since then with the some changes, but the main provisions remain intact: grant permanent status to an undocumented immigrants after they complete two years of college or serve in the military. The goal is to provide a path for undocumented immigrates who came to the US as children. You can read more about the DREAM Act form The Immigration Policy Center.
If you want to participate in the chat use #swunited. You can find more information about the chat, including instructions here.
Photo Credit: By Carlos (By Carlos G.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/DREAM_Act.jpg
Why Social Workers Should Care About DACA
The announcement made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5th should be a call to action for social workers. DACA is a program for youth that arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and have lived in the United States since June 15th, 2017.
DACA was enacted as an Executive Order under the Obama Administration to give these individuals who were brought illegally to the United States as children a chance to be a part of society. These young people are given the ability to apply for a driver’s license, to legally work in the United States, and increases educational opportunities. Most importantly it allows those individuals under the program to come out of the shadows.
DACA recipients are part of our country, and this is perhaps the only country they have ever really known. Many came to the United States as infants and have contributed to their communities in meaningful ways. A study from 2016 points to the economic benefits of the DACA program.
A reported 6% have started their own businesses and many business owners have reported wanting to hire more DACA recipients. Some are working as teachers. Many DACA recipients have reported increasing their civic participation as a result of the program and some DACA recipients even act as emergency responders. One recent example includes a DACA recipient in Texas who tragically died while rescuing those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
DACA has been challenged by the Attorney Generals of nine states, spearheaded by Texas. Tennessee, however, has dropped out of the lawsuit as a result of negative pushback. Several prominent Republicans have denounced the ending of DACA and House Speaker Paul Ryan asked the Trump Administration to give Congress time to work on a legislative solution. Meanwhile, Attorney Generals in several other states are now suing to maintain the program.
To target hopeful young strivers who grew up here is wrong, because they’ve done nothing wrong. My statement: https://t.co/TCxZdld7L4
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 5, 2017
As it stands, DACA recipients will lose the current benefits they have within six months and face possible deportation if a legislative solution is not reached. This will impact 800,000 individuals currently in the program. How does this impact social work? Social workers serve in many capacities in the social services and may likely encounter those who are under the DACA program, including the school system and in college settings.
Most importantly, as social justice is a core value of our profession it is evident that we must align with upholding this program. Social workers should be on the front lines to advocate for this population. Those who have been given the opportunity to show their potential under DACA have thrived. Even DACA, however, does not go far enough in that it creates no path for citizenship, which is why the Dream-Act is needed. Living under DACA gives its recipients many crucial benefits, but ultimately leaves them as second-class citizens.
What can we do now? We must continue to organize politically and let our opinions be known to our elected officials. As a professional organization, we should place pressure on our legislators. We must organize our local chapters and mobilize student social workers. We must continue to educate others. Finally, with so many domestic and international crises looming we must not lose our empathy or capacity for hope.
As former President Obama recently wrote in response to the DACA decision, “What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far.”
6 Actions Social Workers Can Take to Stand with Dreamers
Imagine being ripped apart from the home, the only home you may know and separated from your friends, loved ones and everything you know. Imagine not knowing whether you may be able to continue an education and pursue a profession you have worked hard towards achieving and you have dreamed of all your life. Imagine being afraid to step out of your house to go to work or do simple tasks because of the fear of being deported. Imagine feeling like there is a segment of the population that may not want you around.
Thousands of immigrants do not have to imagine this. This has been their everyday experience since a new President took office and threatened to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that has allowed certain group of immigrants –young immigrants known as dreamers—who are undocumented the opportunity to obtain a work permit and avoid deportation. To date, approximately 800,000 people have obtained DACA, which has meant they have continued their education, joined the workforce, invested in homes, cars and have been able to live their lives out of the shadows.
On September 5, the President turned back his promise to act with “a heart” when it comes to dealing with dreamers and announced the end of a program that had given hope, health, opportunities, and life to thousands. Trump has put a significant segment of our community at risk. He could have saved it and even extended, but he didn’t. Instead of delegating this task to Congress and giving them until March 5, 2018 to come up with an alternate legislation, President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA is leaving many wondering and in dire fear.
DACA was more than a program that benefited just immigrants, it was a program that had proven to benefit our nation as a whole; economically—DACA beneficiaries paid taxes ($1.2 billion annually in federal, state and local tax revenue to be exact according to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy) and have paid dues to obtain and renew DACA surpassing $400,000,000 in revenue; professionally, thanks to the program, talent was added to our workforce—DACA beneficiaries are doctors, business owners, lawyers, teachers, therapists, engineers, students and impact every fabric of our society.
They are our neighbors, colleagues, friends, relatives, and in many cases our clients. DACA recipients came to the United States as children before they were 16 years old and have grown up holding the United States as the only country they know.
Oge Okereke came to the United States in 1999 from Nigeria to seek medical treatment after being involved in a traumatic fire. As a child not knowing much about the system, she overstayed her visa. Oge didn’t realize she was undocumented until she was ready to apply for college. Then the cruel reality hit. She was denied from many colleges due to her status.
Despite her circumstances, she was determined to pursue her college education so she worked hard and saved for college. She proceeded to start her education at a junior college and years later she holds a Master’s degree in nursing as a family nurse practitioner and she is currently pursuing post master’s degree in psychiatry. How can we as a nation tell someone like Oge that she doesn’t belong here? When she and others are selflessly given back in monumental ways.
As social workers, we know that anything that threatens the wellbeing and livelihood of our communities, it becomes an issue that impacts our profession and our country. As our National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics indicates the primary mission of our profession is to enhance the human well-being of all people, help meet basic needs and empower individuals.
When we entered this profession, we did so under an obligation to uphold a core set of values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, and integrity which are the foundation our code of ethics is built on.
Protecting dreamers and providing them with the opportunities they have earned is more than an immigration issue. It’s a human issue, a health and mental health issue. Since the election, direct care providers have seen a rise in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.Together, there is much we can do to fight this important battle. Here are a few ideas:
There is much we can do to fight this important battle together, and here are just a few ideas:
Create healing spaces for DACA recipients.
If you are a trained social worker, providing healing and relief spaces through support groups in your community will be essential to promote community health. Support groups are a great way to stretch our services and it promotes shared learning among participants. If you don’t have a venue to do a group within your setting, consider partnering with your local church, direct services nonprofit or a local immigration organization. To learn about local DACA group near you visit United We Dream.
Provide pro bono or discounted counseling.
There are mental health needs that are not able to be addressed in groups but there are very scarce mental health services for people who are uninsured including immigrants who are undocumented. If you are trained to provide clinical services, have the credentials for it, and your setting allows you to, consider creating a special rate or pro bono hours for individual therapy.
If you do not work at a setting that allows for pro bono hours, consider joining a pro bono project in your community. There are several states that have created pro bono mental health projects such as The Pro Bono Counseling Project that serves DC metro area residents or The Coalition for Immigrant Mental Health in Illinois, currently recruiting pro bono therapists to serve dreamers.
A google search may lead you to a pro bono counseling project near you. You can also join associations like Open Path Therapy, where therapists who join network agree to charge clients between $30 and $50 per session.
Whichever route you decide to go, make sure that what you offer is visible and well known to community members. I am mindful that providing pro bono hours is a tall order, especially when many of us already have full caseloads and are over stretched, but imagine the impact of each of us providing 30 minutes to 1 hour of pro bono time per week for an individual session—all that we can we accomplish together. These are times to think creatively, reassess how we accomplish our tasks and maximize impact.
Activate your social work affiliated organizations.
As a social worker, you may be a member of social work organizations that hold a lot of influence. If you haven’t seen your affiliated organization release a statement supporting dreamers, I encourage you to reach out to them. As members, you have the right to have issues you care about represented by these organizations.
Join organizations and actions to support dreamers.
Several organizations are engaged in the fight to protect dreamers and fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Weareheretostay.org includes latest events, information for dreamers and a mental health kit. Dreamacttoolkit.org features direct actions that you can participate in. Undocuhealing.org also features healing and wellness resources geared towards immigrants who are undocumented. Other organizations to follow are DefineAmerican.com, Fwd.us, ReformImmigrationforAmerica.org.
Share your support in social media.
If you are in social media, let your networks know that you are a social worker that stands with dreamers. Use hashtags: #defenddaca #heretostay #socialwork
Your hard-earned dollars can go a long way. To renew DACA before the expiration date, dreamers have a short window to come up $495 for the renewal fee. Find an organization or fundraising effort supporting dreamers to pay this fee. Here is one of the several efforts to support dreamers. The aimed to raise $35,000 and have raised over $50,000 to date.
No matter what you decide to do, show up! Show up in a way that honors our social work values, our community and yourself.
President Trump Decision to Rescind DACA is Cruel, Unwise and Unjustified
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) strongly opposes President Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and will work with allied organizations and Congress to continue protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children.
President Trump’s decision to revoke DACA dismays us. The order is cruel, unwise and unjustified and could lead to a mass deportation of some 800,000 young people.
There is little doubt that DACA has been a successful program during its five years of existence.
DACA recipients or “Dreamers” have significantly contributed to the growth of our local state and national economies. More than 91 percent of young adult Dreamers are employed. They have also demonstrated their patriotism by joining the American military – some have even sacrificed their lives for this nation.
Abolishing DACA would end Dreamers’ pathway to citizenship and disrupt thousands of families. Many Dreamers grew up in the United States, arriving here at age six or younger. So it would be cruel to send them to countries they barely remember or where they do not know the language.
That the administration is postponing implementation of its DACA executive action for six months to give Congress time to pass bipartisan DACA legislation provides little consolation. Given the many urgent international and national priorities facing Congress, there are no guarantees that Congress will have the time to write and pass a DACA bill in the next six months. As a result, mass deportations of Dreamers are likely.
However, given that President Trump has punted DACA to Congress, the House and the Senate now have a responsibility to make passage of the Dream Act an immediate priority.
Many Democrat and Republican lawmakers opposed President Trump’s DACA executive action. NASW expects this bipartisan group will take a lead in quickly introducing and moving a bill through both houses of Congress.
Therefore, NASW will hold Congress accountable for developing an effective policy for DACA recipients that will avoid chaotic disorder in the lives of DACA recipients and their families.
NASW is also working with partner organizations to oppose President Trump’s decision to revoke DACA and is urging its members and the wider social work community to get involved in local and national activities to protect DACA.
NASW also plans to update its members about DACA-related legislation as it moves through Congress and to alert members when we need for them to take action. For more information and data related to DACA, visit the NASW advocacy website.
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