No Benefits for Deferred-Status Immigrants in Mississippi

President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative has received a great deal of support from immigration advocates. The policy will grant qualified undocumented immigrants a two-year reprieve from deportation and will also provide them with work authorization for two years. At the end of the two-year term, qualified undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for an extension. To qualify, undocumented immigrants will need to be 30 years of age or younger, will need to show that they have lived in the US for at least five years, and will need to have completed high school or served in the military. In addition, undocumented immigrants will need to have entered the US before their 16th birthday.

According to advocates of DACA, the measure will help undocumented immigrants get some form of legal status so that they can stay and work in the US. Critics, however, note the measure does too little to provide long-term stability and status for undocumented immigrants. Critics also point out that the measure may cost states money if undocumented immigrants who qualify for DACA are able to enjoy benefits as well as work authorization. Indeed, for many states it is a quandary: if those who are eligible for DACA are eligible to work in the state, are they eligible for other benefits that legal workers have?

Republican Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has decided that the answer is “no” and he is demanding that state agencies do not grant any benefits to undocumented immigrants who receive deferred deportation status under DACA. Legislators are also debating whether the state should pass a new law which would permit law enforcement authorities to check immigration status of those who are pulled over. Parts of similar laws in Arizona were recently upheld by the US Supreme Court. Bryant has stated that he feels the federal government is doing a poor job dealing with undocumented immigrants and state laws need to be passed to deal with the issue.

Part of the issue for states such as Mississippi is the vague status that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative confers. While DACA defers deportation it does not provide legal status in the same way that a US visa or green card would. Some states argue that this means that those who are granted DACA status are not in the country legally and can be denied benefits. Some immigrant groups and states, however, argue that the status granted by DACA is similar to the status granted by asylum or refugee status, and refugees do qualify for benefits.