The Migration Policy Institute estimates that there are more than 1.1 million undocumented people in the U.S. eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection, reports Cronkite News. Fewer than half that number actually have DACA protection, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Maria Benitez, is undocumented and grew up with hopes of one-day getting coverage under DACA, the 2012 program that protects migrants from deportation if they were brought here as children. Meeting the qualifications, she applied to the program, however, due to ongoing court challenges the government has stopped approving cases impacting her and thousands of others. That has left Benitez, 19, an Arizona State University student, feeling frustrated and worried, in addition to having to cope with added challenges to everyday life that being undocumented brings. “You have to do things and sometimes you’re going to get nothing out of it. You have to work extra hard just to level up with everyone else,” she said. “It’s kind of just like waiting for a little miracle to help you get what you want.”
Benitez is one of an estimated 22,000 DACA-eligible residents without coverage in Arizona, a state where undocumented individuals cannot get a professional license, among other disadvantages. Benitez said that has led her to repeatedly change her college major. “I know that regardless of the education I get it’s going to be really hard to get a job in this, so it took a lot of time for me to finally convince myself,” she said. DACA advocates like Jose Patiño, vice president of education and external affairs of Aliento, say they encourage students like Benitez to get an education if it’s financially possible. While the Department of Homeland Security stopped processing first-time DACA applications in October 2022, those who have coverage are still able to apply for renewal. The overall number of people in the program is steadily shrinking. According to USCIS, there were 589,660 DACA recipients on Sept. 30, 2022. That number first dropped on Dec. 30 and fell again to 578,680 on March 31. For Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), there’s an obvious solution. “We need a law, it needs to be codified, and until that happens this back and forth, uncertainty, no certainty, is going to continue and that’s very very sad,” Grijalva said.