During his announcement that the Trump administration would phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions blamed the Obama-era policy for a surge in unaccompanied minors at the southern U.S. border that spiked in 2014.
Under DACA, undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States before turning 16 could apply for a renewable status that protected them from deportation as long as they met several requirements.
They needed to be in school, have finished high school or be an honorably discharged veteran. They had to be younger than 31 by June 15, 2012. They had to have no significant criminal record. And they had to have lived in the United States continuously since June 15, 2007.
This residency requirement meant that none of the unaccompanied minors showing up at the southern border in 2014 would have qualified for DACA. Most of the unaccompanied minors came from Central America, particularly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
But what if the migrants were under the belief that the United States would welcome them?
The Justice Department pointed us to an article published in the Washington Post on June 13, 2014, headlined, “Influx of minors across Texas border driven by belief that they will be allowed to stay in U.S.” According to the Post, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said that while on a tour of a Border Patrol station in Nogales, Ariz., her aides found “many of the children were smuggled across the border after hearing radio ads promising they would not be deported.”
The Post also cited a leaked memo written by Border Patrol agents said many migrants wanted “to take advantage of the ‘new’ U.S. law that grants a free pass or permit … The news of these ‘permisos’ is spread by word of mouth and international and local media,” the memo said.
So how did these “rumors” arise? As we’ve previously written, the most likely explanation is that Central Americans turned themselves in to immigration authorities to seek asylum protection. To apply for asylum, people must be present in the United States and can do so regardless of how they arrived or of their current immigration status.
Asylum policy is an entirely different aspect of the immigration framework than DACA.
Is it conceivable that people in Central America might have heard about DACA and used it to reinforce a perception that the United States was growing more welcoming to immigrants, and that they should try to send their unaccompanied children here? Yes.
Even that doesn’t mean the DACA policy itself “contributed to a surge of minors at the southern border” — only that misperceptions and unfounded rumors in foreign countries about DACA did. The DACA policy itself would have done Central American migrants no good once they got to the border.
Border Patrol apprehensions at the Southwest border are often used as a rough estimate of the number of people attempting to cross the border into the United States. DACA was announced near the end of the 2012 fiscal year. While the number of apprehensions increased, it did so steadily, as if DACA had never happened. The slope of the increase is consistent from 2011 to 2014, after which it fell. (It’s also less than a third of the level it was in 2000.)
Since the DACA policy itself didn’t address the unaccompanied Central American minors at all, the only way it could have had any effect was through mistaken understandings among potential migrants in Central America about what the program did and didn’t do. While there is evidence that such mistaken ideas did exist, the data show that the upticks at the southern border were already under way by the time DACA was announced, and that trend line didn’t change significantly after the announcement. So the effect, if there was any at all, would have been too small to measure.
We rate the claim Mostly False
President Barack Obama’s policy known as DACA “contributed to a surge of minors at the southern border.”
— Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017 in remarks at the Justice Department