What Is DACA? Everything You Need to Know

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, more commonly known as DACA, is a program that offers protections to those who entered the country illegally as children. The program was established in 2012 under the Obama administration and has since faced many legal challenges.

The status of this program continues to be in flux, and DACA changes occur often. The young people eligible for DACA follow the developments closely, as they directly affect their rights in the United States.

daca application
A DACA application. Find out everything you need to know about how DACA protects young immigrants in the United States.

The Protections Offered by DACA

In its current form, the DACA program does not grant official legal status or a pathway to citizenship to the approximately 800,000 people who have been accepted into the program. What the program does offer though, is the opportunity for these people to acquire a Social Security number, a work permit, and a driver’s license.

There is a push to provide more protections for the young immigrants covered in this program, including a clear path to becoming United States citizens. However, the future of the program remains unclear.

Eligibility for DACA

There are several requirements that must be met in order to be eligible to apply for DACA. Applicant must:

  • Have entered the United States illegally before they turned 16
  • Have lived continuously in the U.S. since June 15th, 2007
  • Have been under the age of 31 on June 15th, 2012
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15th, 2012, and at the time of applying with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • Have had no legal status on June 15th, 2012
  • Have completed high school or a GED/Have been honorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces/Be enrolled in school
  • Not have been convicted of a felony, serious misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors
  • Not pose a threat to national security or public safety

It is estimated that nearly two million people are eligible for DACA, yet as of March 2020, less than one million people were enrolled.

Applying for DACA

There are many steps in applying for DACA for the first time. The process includes:

  • Completing Form I-821D: Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
  • Completing Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization Document
  • Mailing both forms to the USCIS along with the corresponding fees and money for biometrics
  • Attending a biometrics appointment at your local USCIS Application Support Center

You will also need to provide several supporting documents when applying for DACA. These include:

  • Proof of identity: Passport, birth certificate, state ID, military ID, school ID, etc.
  • Proof you arrived in the United States before turning 16: A copy of your passport with a border stamp, Form I-94, INS documents with date of entry, travel records, school records, medical records, religious ceremony documents, etc.
  • Proof of established residence prior to turning 16 if you left the country and returned later: School records, employment records, tax returns, bank letters, employment verification, etc.
  • Proof of residency since June 2007: Tax returns, payment receipts, utility bills, employment records, medical records, school records, money orders, birth certificates of children born in the United States, car registrations, insurance policies, bank transactions, etc.
  • Proof that any absences from the country since 2007 were brief: Plane tickets, passport entries, hotel receipts, etc.
  • Proof you were in the United States on June 15th, 2012: Tax returns, payment receipts, utility bills, employment records, medical records, school records, money orders, birth certificates of children born in the United States, car registrations, insurance policies, bank transaction, etc.
  • Proof of no legal status on June 15th, 2012: Form I-94 with an expiration date, final order of removal or deportation, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document concerning removal proceedings, etc.
  • Proof you are enrolled in school or have graduated, obtained your GED., or achieved honorably discharged veteran status
  • Proof of removal proceedings: A copy of a removal order, a document issued by an immigration judge, the final decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals, etc.
  • Proof of criminal history: An official statement from the arresting agency showing no charges were filed or a complete copy of your arrest record including a copy of court order vacating, setting aside, sealing, expunging, or removing the conviction

Renewing Your DACA Status

It is recommended that all renewal requests be submitted between 120 and 150 days before DACA expiration. In order to be eligible to request a DACA renewal, the applicant must:

  • Not have departed the U.S. on or after August 15th, 2012, without filing Form I-131 for valid travel
  • Have resided in the U.S. continuously since submitting their most recent DACA request
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, serious misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors
  • Not pose a threat to national security of public safety

There are far fewer documents required for DACA renewal than for first-time applicants. Those applying for renewal must complete Form I821D and Form I-765. They must also provide proof of updated deportation or removal proceedings since filing their initial application along with an updated criminal history. Additionally, they must pay the renewal fee of $495.

Current Status of DACA

The DACA program was initiated by President Barack Obama in 2012 via executive order. The program was instituted as a temporary measure after Congress failed to pass Obama’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

In its initial phase, the DACA program:

  • Protected young, undocumented immigrants from deportation
  • Allowed these immigrants to obtain work permits, driver’s licenses, and Social Security numbers
  • Was valid for two years with the possibility of continuous renewals

In September of 2017, President Trump announced that the DACA program would be phased out. However, several court cases prevented a full repeal of the program. Despite that, the administration was able to implement some restrictions on the program, including:

  • Reducing the length of enrollment into the program from two years to one
  • Requiring all renewals to be done within 150 to 120 days before current registration expired
  • Rejecting any new DACA applicants
  • Restricting travel outside of the U.S. for all DACA recipients except under exceptional circumstances.

In November of 2020, a New York federal judge ruled that the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was not authorized to make changes to the DACA program, repealing the restrictions put in place during his tenure.

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

In January 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order, returning the program to its original form.

In July 2021, a federal judge in Texas once again barred new applications from being approved. The DHS will continue to accept the applications but will not approve any. However, the Biden administration is appealing the ruling. Should it be overturned, those applications could then be approved.

Proposed Rule Change

The Biden administration has also proposed some rule changes to DACA to put it on firmer legal ground and make it less vulnerable to attack by opponents of the program. Also included in the proposed rule change is separating employment authorization from the other DACA protections. 

Applicants would still have the option of filing Form I-765 to enable them to gain employment in the country. However, those not in need of work would see the application cost of DACA significantly reduced.

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