The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was created to allow unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the country and be able to fully participate in American society by getting a job or advancing their education. Successful DACA applicants were granted legal status for an initial two-year period and are able to apply for two-year renewals despite the uncertainty surrounding the program while the U.S. Supreme Court considers its fate.
The DACA program was established during the Obama administration in 2012 through a Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) policy memorandum allowing certain unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to receive legal status and protection from deportation. It was implemented after Congress failed to enact legislation known as the DREAM Act that would have provided legal permanent resident status to certain eligible individuals without legal status, who are commonly referred to as “Dreamers”.
To be eligible for DACA, applicants were required to show that they:
- Were under age 16 when they entered the U.S. and were at least 15 years old at the time of application;
- Lacked lawful immigration status & were under age 31 as of June 15, 2012, and continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years prior to that date;
- Weren’t convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or at least three misdemeanors and weren’t a threat to national security or public safety (background checks were performed on applicants’ biographic and biometric information using databases maintained by DHS and other federal agencies); and
- Obtained their high school diploma or GED, or were honorably discharged from military service.
U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), the DHS agency responsible for reviewing DACA applications, could approve or deny applications on a discretionary basis ― which means that simply satisfying the above criteria didn’t guarantee approval. Approved DACA applications grant recipients the legal status necessary to remain in the U.S. for a two-year period that is subject to renewal, and enables them to attend college or work (if they show an economic need).
As of March 2017, a total of 787,580 initial DACA requests and 799,077 renewal requests were approved. About 92% of initial applications were approved while 8% were denied, terminated or withdrawn, and the approval rate of renewals was approximately 99%. USCIS reported that there were roughly 689,000 active DACA recipients as of September 4, 2017, and the total number of people granted DACA as of July 2019 was 822,063. Of that total, 73,043 recipients became legal permanent residents and 4,448 became citizens. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that there were 1,307,000 people without legal status who were eligible for DACA in 2016, and that an additional 398,000 people would have been eligible except for the educational requirements.
The period for initial DACA applications came to an end on September 5, 2017, when the Trump administration announced that it was rescinding the Obama era policy through a new DHS memorandum following a six-month wind-down period (although renewals are still processed). Legal challenges ensued, and following lower court rulings finding that the Trump administration’s rationale for rescinding DACA was insufficient, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for a trio of DACA-related cases on November 12, 2019. A ruling on the consolidated cases is expected from the high court in 2020.
IS DACA A LAW?
No, DACA was implemented through a DHS policy memorandum. While Congress has on several occasions considered legislation that would codify DACA into law, no proposal to that end has been approved by both chambers or signed into law by the president.
WHAT DOES DACA ALLOW RECIPIENTS TO DO?
DACA recipients can remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation, can attend college, and work if they receive authorization after demonstrating an economic need for employment.
WAS DACA EXPANDED?
The Obama administration attempted to expand eligibility for DACA in November 2014 by eliminating the requirement that recipients be under age 31, extending the initial grant & renewal periods from two to three years. The executive action was blocked by federal courts in 2015 and never took effect.
DOES DACA APPLY TO PARENTS?
No, DACA only applies to eligible individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children and meet the above criteria. The Obama administration tried to implement a separate program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) in November 2014 to grant temporary legal status to the parents of DACA recipients. The implementation was blocked by federal courts in 2015, and a 4-4 split decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 left the hold in place. On June 15, 2017, the Trump administration rescinded DAPA through executive action.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN CONGRESS CONSIDERED BILLS TO CODIFY DACA?
Bills to codify DACA into law have been considered in Congress on several occasions in recent years:
- In February 2018, the Senate voted on three proposals that would’ve codified DACA to varying degrees in addition to enacting other immigration reforms, each of which failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to invoke cloture. A bipartisan amendment offered by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) & John McCain (R-AZ) failed 52-47; another bipartisan proposal offered by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Angus King (I-ME) failed 54-45; and the Trump administration’s proposal offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) failed 40-59.
- In June 2018, the House failed to pass Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) Securing America’s Future Act on a 193-231 vote, and the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act on a 121-301 vote.
- In January 2019, the Senate voted on an amendment known as the End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act which failed on a 51-47 vote.
- In June 2019, the Democrat-controlled House passed the American Dream and Promise Act in a 237-187 vote that was mostly along party-lines. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said his chamber won’t consider the bill without a broader compromise on immigration reform & border security, while President Donald Trump threatened to veto the bill in its current form if it were to reach his desk.
IS THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ELIMINATING DACA?
The Trump administration’s bid to rescind DACA, which was first announced in 2017, is currently the subject of three pending cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision by the high court is expected in 2020.
WHAT DO SUPPORTERS SAY ABOUT DACA?
Proponents of DACA contend that it allows people who were brought to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own to remain in and contribute to what may be the only country they have ever known by advancing their education, joining the workforce, and potentially becoming citizens. They believe that if Congress is unwilling or unable to pass legislation protecting the people eligible for DACA from deportation the executive branch should take actions to grant them the legal status necessary to remain in the U.S. and further their education or work.
WHAT DO OPPONENTS SAY ABOUT DACA?
While many of DACA’s detractors believe that people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children should be able to remain in the U.S., they contend that DACA should’ve been implemented through legislation rather than executive action. They believe that DACA or a similar policy should be codified into law alongside comprehensive immigration reform that includes enhanced border security ― which would aim to reduce illegal immigration and make DACA-like proposals unnecessary in the future.
- Congressional Research Service "Unauthorized Childhood Arrivals, DACA, and Related Legislation" 11/6/2019
- Congressional Research Service "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): Frequently Asked Questions" 9/6/2017
- Countable - Supreme Court Considers DACA 11/11/2019
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / Bill Oxford)
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