A closer look at DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

This June, President Obama issued an executive order that defers the federal government’s efforts to remove certain young people who came to the United States illegally as children. Currently, 1.26 million are eligible for deferment, and another half-million may become eligible in the future.

What is DACA?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is considered by some to be the light version of the DREAM Act, which failed to pass in Congress. DACA targets young people who were brought to the United States as children, have attended school here or served in the military and have otherwise led lives as Americans.

Under the law, this population may be eligible for protection from deportation. The protection would last for two years and could be renewed. After two years’ protection, applicants would be eligible for work authorization from the federal government.

Who is eligible for a deferred action?

To be eligible for protection from removal under DACA, applicants must have been under 31 years of age on the 15th of June, 2012, and have come to live in the United States before their 16th birthdays. They must also have lived in the United States for the past five years. Individuals are still eligible if they are in the process of being removed from the country, have been issued a final removal order or are voluntarily departing as long as they are not in immigration detention.

Applicants must also prove that they have contributed positively to society. First, applicants must pass a criminal background check to prove they do not pose a threat to the public’s safety or security. Applicants cannot have a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanors on their criminal records.

Second, applicants must have either gotten their education while in the United States or served in the U.S. military. Proof of enrollment in high school, a high school diploma or GED certificate or an honorable discharge from the military will satisfy this requirement of the new law.

What is the application process?

As of September 26, 2012, there were 1,600 DACA applications up for final review, while 63,000 people had scheduled appointments to have their fingerprints and photos taken as part of the criminal background part of the application process. On average, it takes applications between four and six months to be processed, since each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

It is possible for applications to be denied if applicants do not meet the age, education or military service requirements or have a criminal record. In these cases, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is able to act under its policy guidelines, including sharing information from a DACA application with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement if the background check reveals a criminal offense, instances of fraud or threats to national security.

It is also important to note that DACA does not grant lawful status to applicants; rather, deferral of removal action is granted at the discretion of USCIS. If lawmakers decide to repeal the law in the future, those protected by DACA may be left high and dry.

The protections granted through DACA provide a greater opportunity to work and obtain higher education for over one million young people brought to America as children and who consider the United States their home. To learn more about how to apply for DACA protections and see if you are eligible, contact an experienced immigration attorney.

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