DACA, an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a policy that protects around 800,000 young people known as “Dreamers” who entered the United States unlawfully as children. The program does not grant them official legal status or a pathway to citizenship, but it does allow them to apply for a driver’s license, social security number, and work permit. First established by President Obama in 2012, Trump repeatedly tried to dismantle the program during his tenure. A federal judge ruled in December 2020, that first-time DACA applicants were permitted to apply after the Trump administration stopped accepting new applications. He also extended the renewal period from two years to one year. In October 2022, the Biden administration’s final DACA rule went into effect, shortly after a federal judge ruled that the program could temporarily continue but new applicants would still be barred from applying. As of 2023, no date has been set for additional hearings to confirm DACA’s future, long-term status.
History of DACA
The DACA program was established after Congress failed to pass Obama’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act aimed at granting legal status to young immigrants living in the United States. In the absence of legislative support, Obama issued DACA via executive order as a temporary measure. The original DACA program allowed certain immigrants to apply, based on the following qualifications:
- Be younger than 31 on June 15, 2012.
- Entered to the United States when they were younger than 16.
- Lived in the United States since 2007.
- Allowed young non-documented immigrants to avoid deportation and obtain work permits for a period of two years.
- Created a program that was renewable based on good behavior.
The Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it would start to phase out the DACA program. Several court cases prevented the full repeal of DACA, as well as a violation of federal law. Nevertheless, President Trump still managed to put various restrictions in place, including:
- A reduction in the length of time the program ran, from two years to one.
- All renewals had to be within 150 to 120 days before the existing application expired.
- The rejection of all new DACA applications.
- All requests by DACA recipients for travel outside of the United States were denied except in cases where “exceptional circumstances” were established. Under the original program, DACA recipients could travel outside the United States for humanitarian reasons, education, and employment with a valid travel document.
In November 2020, a federal judge in New York ruled that Chad Wolf, the acting head of the DHS, did not have the authority to make changes to the DACA program, and those rules were therefore invalid. The following month, a federal judge ruled that first-time applicants were once again permitted to apply. In January 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order formally reinstating the program. Biden’s sweeping immigration agenda included a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, but the administration has faced repeated legal hurdles to make headway on legislative progress to fortify the program.
In July 2021, a federal judge ruled that first-time DACA applicants were barred from applying to the program. USCIS has confirmed that all individuals whose DACA requests were approved prior to July 16, 2021, will continue to have DACA status and all DACA requests that were approved before July 16 will continue to be eligible to renew DACA and DACA work permits. The Department of Homeland Security will also continue to accept the filing of initial DACA and employment authorization requests, but they cannot approve new DACA and work permit requests on account of judge’s ruling.
Despite the Biden administration’s persistent efforts to preserve DACA, in October 2022 a federal judge ruled that the program could continue only temporarily and that new applicants would still be unable to apply. As of January 2023, no future hearings have been set to confirm DACA’s status or whether the program can open to new applicants. The Biden administration published a final rule on the program in late October 2022, and the Department of Homeland Security has stated it will continue to protect the program and call on Congress to pass legislation solidifying its permanent status. If a judge ends the program in the future, the current government will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Qualifications for DACA renewals
Unfortunately, USCIS is currently not accepting new DACA applications. However, USCIS is still renewing DACA applications if they are submitted in time. USCIS recommends DACA recipients submit their renewal requests between 120 and 150 days before their current DACA expires. To request a DACA renewal, the following conditions must be met to qualify:
- Applicant did not depart the United States on or after Aug. 15, 2012, without a valid travel document (Form I-131).
- Applicant continuously resided in the United States since submitting their most recent approved DACA request.
- Applicant has not been convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and does not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
- Complete and sign Form I-821D and Form I-765.
- Proof of updated deportation or removal proceedings since the initial application.
- Proof of any additional criminal history since the initial application.
- DACA renewal fee: $495
USCIS has put together some helpful tips on renewing DACA on its website, including filing on time and a checklist of all the required forms and documents.
What does this all mean?
While new applications for DACA are currently not being accepted, it is important to renew the status in time to avoid losing it completely. Current DACA recipients are still able to receive benefits through their status. As a reminder, DACA recipients are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, and the program does not grant them official legal status or a pathway to citizenship. However, a DACA recipient may be eligible for a marriage green card under certain conditions. DACA students are not eligible for federal financial aid. However, they may be able to access financial assistance at the local or state level. Some states allow DACA students to receive in-state aid as part of their tuition. DACA recipients can apply for authorization to travel outside the United States, also known as Advance Parole. This document allows DACA recipients to travel abroad only for employment, educational, or humanitarian purposes. USCIS does not consider travel for vacation a valid purpose. Currently, adult DACA recipients who meet the income and other Medicaid requirements are eligible for coverage in California, Minnesota, and New York. Some other states offer limited Medicaid benefits to DACA recipients.