What is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)?
DACA is a special benefit put in place by the government for certain younger people who arrived in the U.S. as minors and have a high school education. If granted, you can get a work permit, a valid social security number, and a driver’s license. DACA benefits are valid for two years initially, and this period may be renewed for an additional two years. While you have DACA status, the government will not pursue enforcement for deportation against you, unless the DACA grant is revoked for some reason (such as if you committed a crime later that disqualifies you.)
History of DACA – How and when did DACA start?
DACA was announced by the Department of Homeland Security in June of 2012, explaining that young individuals who are present in the U.S. and who meet a number of requirements could petition the USCIS to exercise prosecutorial discretion on an individual basis, and defer deportation proceedings for two years. The purpose of this policy is to prioritize the deportation of people who pose a significant threat to national security, rather than individuals who pose no threat to public safety. Applications for DACA were accepted beginning on August 15, 2012.
The DACA policy has its roots in a bill called the DREAM Act, which was first introduced into the US Senate in 2001. The intent of the bill was to provide permanent residency to individuals of good moral character who had immigrated to the United States as minors, graduated from an American high school, and either served two years in the military or completed two years of college.
However, neither the DREAM Act nor a number of subsequent versions introduced in the past decade have been passed. DACA is essentially an extremely limited version of the DREAM Act, which is why those who qualify for DACA are sometimes referred to as “DREAMers.”
What Benefits Does DACA Provide?
Individuals who are granted deferred action through DACA are no longer unlawfully present during that time, and will not accrue unlawful presence during the validity of the DACA. Individuals granted DACA may obtain a social security number, driver’s license (you still have to take the tests) and receive employment authorization (if determined to be an economic necessity), allowing for legal employment. DACA grantees may also apply for special permission to travel abroad for a specific period of time for educational, medical, or personal emergency reasons.
While DACA is a wonderful benefit that allows young individuals to finally step out of the shadows, work legally, and obtain a social security number, there are some limitations. DACA does not lead to permanent residency or provide a path to citizenship. A grant of deferred action does not confer lawful immigration status or cure any prior or later period of unlawful presence. It just means that you are authorized to stay in the U.S. during that time.
Who Qualifies For DACA?
Currently, the requirements for requesting DACA are as follows:
- You were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.
- You came to the U.S. before your 16th birthday.
- You have continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.
- You were present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and when you made your request for deferred action with the USCIS.
- You had no lawful status in the U.S. on June 15, 2012.
- You have done one of the following: (1) currently attending school, (2) have graduated from high school or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, (3) have obtained a GED certificate, or (4) are an honorably discharged veteran of the military.
- You have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors.
You must be at least 15 years old in order to request DACA, though this requirement is waived if you are presently in removal proceedings, or have already received a voluntary departure order or final removal order. If you are in immigration detention, you will first need to contact ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) before you may apply to USCIS for consideration of DACA.
Why Hire an Immigration Attorney for DACA?
An attorney can help you through the process to identify the supporting documents that are required, prepare the forms, and organize the package. Most importantly, the benefit of hiring a knowledgeable immigration attorney is that through discussing your immigration history and family situation, you may discover that there are other options for you to pursue permanent residency or other legal status instead. In addition, he or she can identify the potential risks in your case and whether you are eligible to apply.
For instance, you may have departed from the United States to visit your family or for school for some period of time. It would be beneficial to consult with an attorney experienced in DACA to analyze the absences and to determine whether it would disqualify you from the DACA requirements for eligibility.
Even if you have a small criminal record, an experienced attorney can determine whether it would be considered a “significant misdemeanor.” The term “significant misdemeanor” is a legal term that is unique to DACA, so an immigration attorney who is familiar with handling criminal issues can be vital to analyzing the crime to see how it would affect your case. Certain criminal convictions can ultimately lead to your deportation, so it doesn’t hurt to be cautious and discuss your case with your attorney before you take the risk and apply.
Juvenile convictions and any gang affiliation in the past or present may also cause issues if your case is not appropriately prepared and presented. If necessary, a good criminal immigration attorney can help you modify your criminal record before applying for immigration benefits.
More information on DACA may be found at the USCIS’s page for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or their DACA FAQ page.