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Open Access Publications from the University of California

One Step In and One Step Out : The Lived Experience of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program

  • Author(s): Kosnac, Hillary Sue
  • et al.

After over a decade of congressional stalemate on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the summer of 2012. A form of prosecutorial discretion, DACA offers certain undocumented youth a two-year reprieve from deportation, employment authorization and, in some states like California, a driver's license. Nevertheless, because DACA does not provide a pathway to citizenship or even legal permanent residency, its recipients straddle a line of inclusion and exclusion. Utilizing data gathered from semi-structured interviews with 54 DACA recipients in San Diego County, the following study employs a mixed-methods approach to examine the lived experience of individuals with DACA in terms of economic integration, education and sense of belonging. In each area, I seek to identify the factors that help to explain the differences in life experiences after DACA among the program's recipients. While I find that many DACA recipients are generally experiencing positive economic, educational and existential outcomes, individuals with DACA continue to face challenges in these three areas as well, largely due to the liminally legal nature of the program. As the Obama administration contemplates additional executive action in this area, I conclude with policy recommendations aimed at improving DACA and the lives of those who currently live "one step in and one step out."

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