DACA recipients have weathered constant legal threats to their guarantee of residency over the years and this year is no different. Just this month, a highly anticipated federal appeals court ruling which came down Wednesday, Oct. 6 reaffirmed an alteration to the scope of the program.
Understand the basics of the program.
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What is the DACA ruling?
On Wednesday, Oct. 5 a decision came down from a federal appeals court upholding a previous ruling which declared the program illegal but allowed DACA recipients to renew their status. In a statement, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said he was "deeply disappointed" by the court's decision and urged congress to pass a law codifying a path to citizenship for Dreamers.
What is DACA?
DACA is a US government program that allows for work authorization and puts a temporary hold on deportation for those who were brought into the country illegally as children.
What does DACA stand for?
DACA is an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals.
What are Dreamers?
Dreamers, or DREAMers, is a commonly used name in political discourse to describe the group of people impacted by the DREAM Act. DREAMers refers to the larger population of undocumented youth brought to the United States as minors, while DACA refers only to those who applied for and received the Obama-era program.
The DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, would have provided a path to legal status for those who are undocumented and came to the US as children. It was first introduced in 2001, and since over 10 versions have tried to make it through Congress but none have passed.
When a version came close but failed to pass during his tenure, President Barack Obama issued DACA as an executive order, tying the legislation to the Dreamers. The name connotates not just the bill's acronym but the concept of a cohort of young people whose hopes and ambitions would be cut short without a pathway to legal status.
Who qualifies for DACA?
According to the Undocumented Student Program at the University of California Berkeley, to be eligible to receive DACA, the qualifications are:
Under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012
Arrived in the US prior to your 16th birthday
Physically present in the US on June 15, 2012 and at the time of DACA application
Lived continuously in the US from June 15, 2007 to present
Arrived in the US without documents prior to June 15, 2012, or legal status expired as of that date
Enrolled in or have graduated from high school or earned a GED/certificate of completion. Having been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or military also qualifies you as does a technical and trade school completion
Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors.
Does DACA have an age limit?
According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, the DACA age requirements are as follows:
You must have been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, to be considered for DACA.
You must be at least 15 years of age or older at the time of filing, if you have never been in removal proceedings, or your proceedings were terminated before your DACA request.
You can apply for DACA if you are under 15, if you are in removal proceedings, have a final removal order, or have a voluntary departure order, and are not in immigration detention.
How long does DACA last?
DACA lasts two years before recipients need renewal. It is suggested you apply for renewal four to five months prior to the expiration date, however, as requests take awhile to process.
The expiration date can be found on the I-797, Notice of Action received upon approval of your original DACA request.
Is DACA still available?
Yes and no. While those who have received DACA in the past can renew, new initial applications for DACA are not being granted.
In July of 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas held that the DACA policy was "illegal.” That same court then temporarily stayed its order, making so that those who had received DACA on or before July 16, 2021, when the court made its decision could be granted renewal requests.
Currently, DHS will still accept both initial and renewal applications but is prohibited from granting any of the initial requests and their accompanying asks for employment authorization.
Looking forward, a decision is expected on pending litigation before the fifth circuit court. Veronica Garcia, a staff attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center says the consensus in the legal community on this issue is that the court tends to be fairly conservative and a positive outcome would be surprising. "We don't foresee that there will be a positive solution soon," Garcia explains, "based on how the fifth circuit has previously ruled its not hopeful."
Can DACA recipients travel?
DACA recipients can travel within the fifty states, and to US territories but to travel internationally 'advance parole; from US Citizenship and Immigration Services need to be granted prior to departure.
Garcia says allowance for advance parole is "very narrow" though, permissible only for education, employment, or humanitarian reasons.
Can DACA recipients join the military?
It's complicated. DACA recipients can be drafted, Documented reports, as US law requires all male individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 to register with the Selective Service System, regardless of immigration status.
Enrolling voluntarily is a different story though. Since DACA recipients are still not Legal Permanent Residents, the right to enlist is not guaranteed. During the Bush Administration, the Military Accessions Vital to National Interests (MAVNI) program was enacted, and from 2014 to 2016 DACA recipients could enlist for service along with other immigrants, PBS News Hour reports.
In 2016, the military stopped accepting new recruits under the program though, citing identified security threats. In 2020 the Military Officers Association of America sent a letter to congress, urging legislative solutions for the 800 DACA recipients still in the military under MAVNI so their right to service might codified.
How much does DACA cost?
US Citizenship and Immigration Services lists the filing fee for DACA as $495. The fee covers employment authorization and biometric services and there is not option to waive it.
Can DACA recipients marry a US citizen?
Yes. The US doesn't have rules against non-citizens marrying citizens. This union will be legally binding just like any other.
Can DACA guarantee a green card or citizenship?
No. DACA is strictly a program for deferral of deportation and work authorization. It does not guarantee a path to citizenship though this has been a wish list item for legislative champions of immigration reform for years.
As of now, the pathway that exists within the legal system is for a DACA recipient to receive legal permanent resident status via a green card, then apply for citizenship. This process is not available to everyone, however, as to attain a green card you need to have satisfied the the lawful entry requirement, entering with a valid U.S. visa.
According to nonprofit ImmigrationHelp.org, you may be able to receive an immigrant visa if you have an immediate relative (e.g. spouse) who is a legal resident or citizen. Garcia confirms this is one of the most common ways people in the United States obtain legal permanent status. If you’ve entered the country lawfully, you can apply for a green card even through a relative even if you had some "unlawful presence" and spent time in the country without valid legal status.
If entry to the country was unlawful, DACA recipients can still meet the lawful entry requirement through Advance Parole. This allows recipients to travel abroad and then lawfully re-enter the US. Once you have lawfully returned, you might gain eligibility for a green card if a family member petitions on your behalf.
This isn't as easy as it sounds though, as if you haven't yet entered the country lawfully before, you’ll need to apply from your country of birth, often waiting three or ten years for re-entry if you don’t file have a lawyer file an unlawful presence waiver.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is DACA? Who is eligible? Age limit, legal status broken down.