What Happens if DACA Ends?

During his four years in office, the Trump administration and several states threatened to overturn the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented under President Obama. While the program seems to be on more stable ground with Joe Biden in office, it still faces plenty of legal challenges.

The most recent upset to the program came in July of 2021 when a federal judge in Texas made a ruling barring approval of any new applicants to the program. The Biden administration is pushing back, though. They are appealing the decision of the federal judge and attempting to shore up the legal footing for the program to protect it against future attacks.

However, as long as the program remains vulnerable, those who rely upon it will continue to question what will happen if DACA should come to an end. When the program was closest to being shut down, the Cato Institute released their analysis of what would happen should the program be repealed.

illustration of protest with daca flag
An illustration of a protest with a DACA flag. Find out more about what would happen if DACA ended.

Would DREAMers Be Deported?

The first part of DACA is deprioritization for removal. The executive order prevents DREAMers from being placed into removal proceedings or removed from the United States. This positions those eligible for DACA as low priority when it comes to being targeted by immigration officers. 

On February 20th, 2017, a new immigration enforcement memo targeted nearly all undocumented immigrants living in the United States. If DACA were removed, the Cato study believed the priority level of DREAMers would be the same as other undocumented immigrants, thus making them eligible for deportation.

Would DREAMers Immediately Lose Deferred Action?

The deferred action goes hand in hand with deprioritization. Essentially it protects those in the DACA program from being arrested by immigration officers because of their undocumented status. According to Cato, if an immigration officer searches a DACA recipient’s name in their database, they will find that person’s status is “lawfully present.” 

The Cato study found that it is unclear what will happen to deferred action if DACA is ended, but it does include some possible outcomes:

  1. The administration leaves the program intact but doesn’t renew or issue new DACA benefits. That means the program would end on its own when the time ran out on all those currently enrolled.
  2. The administration could leave it up to individual immigration officers to determine if someone will have their DACA benefits removed on a case-by-case decision.

Would DREAMers Immediately Lose Employment Authorization?

DACA also gave immigrants an opportunity to work legally in the United States by applying for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The cards typically expire in two years

The Cato study states that because employment authorization is dependent on a grant of deferred action, canceling that portion of DACA means legal employment authorizations would end as well. 

One thing that bodes well for cardholders is that the EADs do not have any indication they were issued under DACA. Employers must accept any valid, unexpired ID.

How Many People Would Be Affected?

There are currently nearly a million people enrolled in the DACA program who would all lose their protection if DACA were to come to an end. Additionally, there are about a million more people who are currently eligible for DACA but have not yet applied. Should DACA end, they would never get the opportunity to benefit from the program.

Beyond the individuals directly eligible for the program, there are millions more who would be hurt by the end of DACA. Many of the people in this program have families in the country, including children. Should they face deportation, they could either end up separated from their children or forced to uproot them from the only home they have ever known.

When Will DACA End?

The biggest threats to DACA were shot down near the end of the Trump administration. While there is still the possibility that the program could be shut down in the future, it seems unlikely at this point. The Biden administration is currently working to bolster the legal backing behind DACA to prevent it from further attack.

A stated goal of the current administration is to eventually expand the protections offered under DACA and provide those in the program with a path to legal status and even U.S. citizenship.

The Future of DACA

The future of DACA remains unclear. While it doesn’t seem likely that it will end anytime soon, it could continue to see a back and forth battle where it at times offers greater protections, while at other times it is weakened. Immigration is a highly contentious issue in the country, and like DACA, the debate looks primed to carry on.

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