The deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program has received a lot of attention, and much of the focus has been on students who can use the program to avoid deportation for up to two years while getting work authorization. Under DACA, qualified young adults who were brought into the country as young children will qualify for deferred deportation. While the program does not grant a pathway to legal status or citizenship, it is seen as a way to help qualified undocumented immigrants get some form of status and legal work authorization in the country.
Experts note that the program is also a benefit for young workers, especially farm workers. Under DACA, qualified immigrants are those who are 30 years of age and younger who have completed a GED, high school, or have military service in the US armed forces. To qualify, applicants must not have felony convictions. They must have lived in the US for at least 5 years and have arrived in the US before they turned 16.
For farm workers and low-wage workers who qualify, DACA can be a path to work authorization, a significant step for many undocumented immigrants working in agriculture, where many work for less than minimum wage in dangerous and difficult conditions. Work authorization and a temporary Social Security number and driver’s license could allow these workers to enjoy legal work – work that comes with fairer wages and better conditions.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, about one million undocumented immigrants currently qualify for DACA. Of these, about half are working, many in lower-wage jobs. Under DACA, even those who entered the workforce early and who may not have much education may qualify for deferred deportation and work authorization. If a qualified undocumented immigrants does not have a high school education, they may still qualify for DACA if they enter English language classes, adult education courses, or vocational training. This may give hope to those who were unable to finish schooling and now are stuck in low-income jobs.
Farm workers do face some hurdles when applying for DACA. For example, they may not know about the program and may lack the language skills to apply. They may have less access to schools and legal advice than educated students who have more resources when it comes to applying.
According to the National Agricultural Workers, more than 60% of farm workers were born in Mexico. More than 50% of these workers are under the age of 31, making them qualify for DACA and most have undocumented status. Up to 54,000 farm workers could qualify for DACA. How many will apply remains to be seen. Some may learn about the program through friends and family and get help applying from their communities.