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DACA Gave Thousands of Undocumented Texans Hope. Will it Survive?

Undocumented immigrants in Texas are taking a glass-half-full approach as a 2012 initiative that has benefited hundreds of thousands of immigrants marks its four-year anniversary. But will that optimism last after the November election?

Immigrants and activists participate in press conference and rally on Nov. 19, 2015, before a 37-mile march to show support for immigration reform. The marchers planned to walk for three days, from the federal immigration detention facility in Taylor to the Texas Governor's Mansion in downtown Austin.

Though still smarting from a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that kept President Obama’s 2014 immigration program from being implemented, the undocumented population in Texas is taking a glass-half-full approach as it celebrates the four-year anniversary of another initiative that has benefited hundreds of thousands.

But supporters and recipients of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, are also eyeing this November with full knowledge that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has promised to end the policy should he defeat Hillary Clinton.

DACA applies to undocumented immigrants that came to the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012. The program awards recipients a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings. It preceded the more-encompassing but ill-fated 2014 program, known as DAPA. More than 220,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas have applied for the 2012 policy action or a renewal of their permits, and nearly 200,000 of those have been approved, according to government statistics — the second-highest total behind California’s estimated 387,000 applications and 359,000 approvals.

Supporters say it’s a boon to the U.S. economy and has allowed undocumented immigrants with no other recourse to stay connected with their families in this country.

A July 2015 study published by the Center for American Progress, a progressive Washington-based think tank, found that 45 percent of DACA recipients reported a higher wage after receiving the benefit, while about 90 percent said they were able to get a state-issued ID. Another 90 percent said they were offered more educational opportunities with DACA than without.

As part of his hardline immigration-enforcement strategy, which also includes mass deportations and building a wall on the country’s southern border, Trump has promised to end the program if elected.

That’s led Democrats to use the program’s successes to warn immigrant rights advocates what could happen if they stay home in November.

“Unfortunately, instead of heeding the lessons of their 2012 GOP autopsy report and embracing immigrants and immigration reform, the Republican Party has nominated Donald Trump, one of the most anti-immigrant candidates in our nation’s history,” Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile, DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair Iris Martinez and DNC Vice Chair Maria Elena Durazo said in a joint statement. “Trump wants to end DACA and deport all undocumented immigrants regardless of their circumstances or their contributions to our country.”

Conservative groups are using the anniversary to call out some of their own, saying that repealing DACA isn’t just a political issue but is also about the rule of law.

In an opinion piece published in The Hill in June, Jon Feere, the legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative immigration research organization, laid out the reasons why U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan should fight to repeal the 2012 policy.

“At this very moment, the Obama administration is handing out work permits, Social Security accounts and other benefits to thousands of illegal aliens. At last count, over 700,000 illegal aliens have benefited. Yet Congress has done nothing to stop it,” he wrote. “Ryan clearly feels that Obama's DAPA program and the extended version of DACA exceed the powers of the presidency and run afoul of the Constitution. Logically, he must feel the same way about the 2012 DACA amnesty.”

Faye Hipsman, a policy analyst at Migration Policy Institute, said that while it’s known what Trump will do if elected a Clinton presidency is a slightly bit more nuanced. Hipsman said Clinton is on record as supporting DACA and vowing to keep it in place. But Clinton would also push for legislative action before using executive power like Obama said he was forced to do in 2012 and 2014.

“What’s initially likely is instead of resorting to executive action, a legislative push is likely. If that fails, there will undoubtedly be pressure to create a similar deferred action program,” Hipsman said. “There are few ways that President Clinton could try to create a similar program that doesn’t get struck down.”

Meanwhile, about 177,000 more Texans are currently eligible to apply, followed by another 37,000 when they turn 16. Whether they wait until after November is the big question.

“You hear that it can cut two ways, one being that, given the two candidates’ stances, people are waiting to apply,” Hipsman said. “On the other hand, the two candidates’ stances could encourage other people to apply in order to get DACA relief before the election.”

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