Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Catch-22 of Undocumented Youth By Nienke Schouten

The political world is buzzing about the upcoming presidential elections. Campaigns to register voters and involve the American public in this democratic process are in full force. Although many argue that voting is the essence of being an American citizen, these elections may be, ironically enough, most important for those that cannot vote: the undocumented youth.

Currently, undocumented youth are benefiting from the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This program allows them access to work authorization and receive deferred deportation. Because DACA is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the president can decide to stop the program as he/she wishes. President Obama has had a commitment to undocumented youth by supporting legislation such as the more permanent DREAM Act and enacting DACA. However, Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s position remains vague. Many DACA applicants fear that if Romney becomes president, he might end the program.

Thus, the next few weeks before the elections are a calm before the storm. The initial excitement from DACA’s introduction has winded down, and now, applicants are waiting anxiously to see who will win the presidency because DACA’s survival is in the president’s hands. The result will either cause thousands of undocumented youth to quickly turn their application in before Romney takes office in January, or take their time gathering their supporting evidence as Obama commences his second term. This irony highlights the unique and sensitive situation these undocumented youth are in. The lines of citizenship are being questioned as many see the deportation of undocumented youth as highly unethical considering they are, in a sense, de facto citizens of the United States. These youth grew up in the United States and their peers are Americans. Their childhood and identity formation is American. Unfortunately, these de facto citizens are stuck in a Catch-22; they cannot vote for the president that will allow them to stay in the United States and become legally voting citizens.


Nienke Schouten is a law student at UC Davis School of Law and, among other activities, works in the Immigration Law Clinic, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

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