What Is DACA? Everything You Need To Know

Here is our guide to the DACA program.
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What Is DACA?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is an immigration policy of the United States that protects certain immigrants from deportation who entered the United States illegally when they were minors.

The DACA program mandates that the work permit and status be renewed every two years.

President Barack Obama issued the executive branch memorandum on June 15, 2012, to safeguard young immigrants from deportation. Applications for the program were first accepted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on August 15, 2012.

According to the Center for American Progress, about 1.8 million people qualify for DACA. However, a little over 800,000 persons were registered in the program as of March 2020.

This program’s status is still in flux, and DACA modifications are frequent. The changes are eagerly watched by the young immigrants who qualify for DACA since they directly influence their rights in the United States.

What Is The DREAM Act? Who Are “Dreamers”?

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, is a legislative proposal in the United States that would grant undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors temporary conditional residency with the ability to work, and if they later met additional requirements, permanent residency. 

The bill was initially proposed in the Senate in April 2001. However, it was not passed. Since then, the plan has been brought up again multiple times, but neither house of the US Congress has received support from majorities.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients are known as “Dreamers” because of the DREAM Act. Most DACA recipients entered the country between the ages of 2 and 7. They are on average 27 years old, more than half identify as female, and 57% have a bachelor’s degree.

What Are The Protections Offered by DACA?

In contrast to the proposed DREAM legislation, DACA does not provide official legal status or a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 800,000 individuals now enrolled in the program,

However, DACA offers undocumented immigrants:

  • Protection from deportation
  • Obtain Work permits (employment authorization document)
  • Drivers licenses
  • Social Security number

DACA Requirements

To be eligible for DACA, applicants must fulfill the following requirements:

  • You came to the U.S. before turning 16 years of age;
  • You were under 31 years of age on June 15, 2012 (born on June 16, 1981, or after);
  • You have lived continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007;
  • You were physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and at the time of submitting your application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for consideration of deferred action;
  • You came to the U.S. unlawfully before June 15, 2012, or your lawful status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  • You have been honorably discharged from the military, are presently enrolled in school, have received a high school diploma, a GED, or graduated from high school;
  • You are not a threat to public safety or national security and have not been convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors of any type.

How To Apply For DACA?

For initial DACA applications (for those submitting their first applications), you must:

  • Complete Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Form I-821D).
  • Application for Employment Authorization Document (Form I-765).
  • Send both forms to USCIS along with the required payment ($85 for biometrics, currently $495, which includes $85 for biometrics).
  • Make a biometrics appointment at your local USCIS Application Support Center and attend it.

DACA Supporting Documents

You will also need to provide several supporting documents for your DACA application:

  • Proof of identity: Passport, birth certificate, state-issued ID, military ID, school ID, etc.
  • Proof you came to the U.S. before age 16: A copy of your passport with a border stamp, Form I-94, any INS documents with date of entry, travel records, school records, hospital or medical records, religious ceremony documents, etc.
  • Proof of established residence before age 16 if you left the U.S. and returned later: Acceptable documents include school records, employment records, tax returns, bank letters, employment verification, etc.
  • Proof of residency since June 2007: Payment receipts, utility bills, employment records, tax returns, school records, medical records, money orders, birth certificates of children born in the U.S., dated bank transactions, car receipts/title/registration, insurance policies, etc.
  • Proof that any absences from the US since 2007 were brief, casual, and innocent: Plane tickets, passport entries, hotel receipts, or evidence of travel intent, etc.
  • Proof of presence in the U.S. on June 15, 2012: Tax returns, payment receipts, utility bills, employment records, medical records, school records, money orders, birth certificates of children born in the U.S., car registrations, insurance policies, dated bank transactions, etc.
  • Proof of no legal status on June 15, 2012: Form I-94 with an expiration date, the final order of removal or deportation, or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document concerning removal proceedings, etc.
  • Proof of current education, graduation, GED, or achieved honorably discharged veteran status (Form DD-214, NGB Form 22, military personnel records, or health insurance).
  • Proof of removal proceedings: A copy of the removal order, any document issued by an immigration judge, or the final decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), etc.
  • Proof of criminal history: An official statement from the arresting agency that no charges were filed, or if charged or convicted, an original or court-certified copy of the complete arrest record and disposition for each incident; an original or court-certified copy of the court order vacating, setting aside, sealing, expunging, or otherwise removing the arrest or conviction.

Renewing Your DACA Status

USCIS advises DACA recipients to file their renewal requests 120 to 150 days before the expiration of their present DACA. You must fulfill the requirements listed below to be qualified to request a DACA renewal:

  • Not have left the country without a valid travel document on or after August 16, 2012. (Form I-131) (Form I-131)
  • Have lived continuously in the United States since submitting the most recent approved DACA application
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors and are not a threat to public safety or national security

To apply for DACA renewal:

  • Complete Form I-821D and Form I-765.
  • Provide proof of updated deportation or removal proceedings that have taken place since your first application.
  • Provide proof of any additional criminal history since you submitted your application.

Having your previous form on hand is helpful because consistency in your information is necessary to get your paperwork in order. You can utilize previously stored information on your I-821D and I-765 forms when renewing online at the USCIS website.

DACA renewal costs are $495, which you must pay.

The current processing time for DACA renewal is 3 to 3.5 months, according to USCIS. You may obtain the most recent details on processing times here.

What Is DACA Advance Parole?

The DACA Advance Parole is an administrative procedure that enables DACA beneficiaries who want to travel outside the country to get permission in advance to return to the country.

Currently, USCIS will only approve advance parole applications to DACA holders who can show that the trip is necessary for one of the conditions listed below:

  •  Humanitarian (such as receiving medical care abroad, attending a funeral, or visiting a sick relative);
  • Educational (such as conducting academic research or participating in semester-abroad programs); or
  • Employment-related purposes (e.g., overseas assignments, interviews, conferences, training, etc.)

Vacation travel is not recognized by USCIS as a valid purpose for advance parole for DACA participants.

DACA History

After Congress failed to pass Obama’s DREAM Act, the DACA program was started. Obama administration issued DACA by executive order as a temporary measure in the absence of legislative backing.

In September 2017, the Trump administration declared that it would begin to phase out the DACA program. Several legal challenges delayed the complete repeal of DACA, with the Supreme Court ruling in 2020 that any attempt to do so would be “arbitrary and capricious” and against the law.

Nevertheless, it did manage to enforce several limitations, such as:

  • The program’s duration was shortened from two years to one.
  • All renewals are required to be made within 150 to 120 days before the existing application expired.
  • The rejection of all new DACA applications.
  • Except in situations where “exceptional circumstances” were proven, no DACA recipients were allowed to request permission to leave the country. Under the initial program, DACA recipients could travel outside the country with a valid travel document for humanitarian, educational, or employment purposes.

In November 2020, a federal judge in New York declared that the limitations imposed on the DACA program during the tenure of Chad Wolf, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), were invalid and that he lacked the authority to do so.

In December 2020, another federal judge ruled that first-time applicants could reapply and reinstate the length of the program back to two years.

What Is the Current Status of DACA?

On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden formally returned the program to its original form through an executive order.

On July 16, 2021, federal judge Andrew Hanen issued a ruling on July 16, 2021, declaring that the program was “created in violation of the law” and illegally implemented.” He effectively revoked Biden’s executive order by prohibiting the government from accepting new applications for the program.

While the DHS will still accept new DACA applications, none will be approved. The Biden administration is, however, appealing the decision.

Should it be overturned, those applications could then be accepted. 

Those immigrants who are currently covered by the program may continue to maintain their DACA status, and DACA renewals are permitted. 

If Congress is unable to enact legislation, the Supreme Court rulings will probably decide the future of DACA and the Dreamers next year.

DACA FAQs

Is Financial Aid Available to DACA Students?

The federal government does not offer financial aid to DACA students. They might be able to get financial aid at the local or state level, though. In-state financial help may be available to DACA students as part of their tuition in some states. For more information on financing options for international students in the U.S., check out this blog.

Are Medicaid Benefits Available to DACA Recipients?

Adult DACA holders can currently access coverage in California, Minnesota, and New York if they meet Medicaid’s income and other eligibility standards. Some additional states provide DACA recipients with limited Medicaid benefits.

Can DACA recipients Obtain Permanent Legal Residency In The U.S.?

A DACA recipient is not given a lawful immigration status or a path toward citizenship under the DACA program. However, advance parole can be used as a possible route to obtaining permanent residency (a.k.a. a green card).

People who entered the U.S. illegally are regarded as “inadmissible,” which may make it difficult or impossible for their application for permanent residency to be approved. 

However, leaving the country and returning with advance parole bypasses the issue of being inadmissible because doing so counts as authorization to enter the country. 

Advance parole can be handy for a DACA recipient who has (or might have in the future) a family member who is:

  • a U.S. citizen spouse,
  • a U.S. citizen parent (if you are under 21 and not married),
  • a U.S. citizen child at least 21 years old. 

You might be qualified to apply for permanent residency if you have one of the categories of family members mentioned above, which are known as “immediate relatives” in immigration services terms. For further clarifications, speak with your legal representative.

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