What is the DACA program?

In September 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, aka the DACA program. The program which was established during the Obama administration protects young undocumented immigrants – popularly called Dreamers from deportation. 

The decision was announced at the Justice Department by Trump and ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. They accused the immigrants of being lawbreakers who were illegally staying in the country. They believed that unemployment rates of native-born Americans were at an all-time high because the immigrants were usurping their jobs and pushing down wages.

However, on June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump Administration’s termination of the DACA program. This comes as a huge win for the Dreamers. Nearly 700,000 people who are in the U.S. under the DACA program can breathe a sigh of relief because they will not be deported for the time being.

However, the invalidation of Trump’s order by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) does not mean that everything has been sorted out. This is because a permanent legislative solution has not yet been reached. In spite of the Supreme Court ruling, the U.S. government is not accepting any new applications. Additionally, one is not guaranteed reentry if they happen to leave the country.

Origin of DACA

U.S. President Barack Obama launched the DACA program in June 2016. It allowed individuals who had been unlawfully staying in the country and were brought to the U.S. as children to receive a two-year deferred action from deportation. It also allowed them to apply for work permits and driver’s licenses. Although it does not provide a “legal pathway to citizenship”, the immigrants can stay and work in the country without fear. 

In order to be eligible for DACA, they should not have a criminal record.

Which individuals are eligible for the DACA program?

According to the National Immigration Law Center, in order to be eligible for deferred action under the DACA program, one must have come to the United States before their sixteenth birthday and they have lived continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007. They have been present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and every day since August 15, 2012.

Hence, the applicants should have to be at least 15 years of age when they apply for the program and have been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012. They must also be living in the United States when they are submitting the request for deferred action.

Some other criteria include the applicants having to be a high school graduate, in school or have a high school completion certificate or GED. They can also qualify if they are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard.

Applicants having a criminal record, charged with three or more significant demeanors are not eligible for the program. The District of Homeland Security (DHS) does not precisely define what these terms mean. However, it is indicated that it includes actions like being in a gang, participation in criminal activity, and so on. Finally, applicants are also not accepted, if they are deemed to be a threat to national security or public safety.

According to the data released by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that nearly 80% of the 649,070 immigrants shielded under the DACA program, come from Mexico. Some 9% of immigrants are from the Northern Triangle of Central America i.e. Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. It is said that 9 out of 10 dreamers who apply for the DACA program get accepted. 

Expansion of DACA and Donald Trump’s order 

Obama wanted to expand the DACA program via executive action in November 2014. The new program would be called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents or DAPA. This new immigrant policy would grant individuals deferred action status who has lived in the United States since 2010 and have children who were born in America or are lawful permanent residents. 5.2 billion people were estimated to receive relief from deportation via this policy.

However, it was brutally blocked in 2015 through a lawsuit by 26 states, injunction by a federal judge that an appeals court upheld. Additionally, a 4-4 Supreme Court deadlock on the measures’ constitutionality in June 2016 that left the appeals court decision in place. These legal actions brought about an end to DAPA.

Obama’s DAPA memo was further revoked by ex-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly which prevented Obama’s executive branch from defending or pushing for the policy’s implementation. 

Later, in September 2017, Trump ordered an end to the Obama-era program. He called it an “amnesty-first approach” and called on Congress to pass legislation to replace the program before the Dreamers who were shielded under it were eligible for deportation after the next six months i.e. March 2018. 

How to apply for DACA?

Before applying for the program, one must make sure that they qualify for all the criteria put forward by the USCIS.

One can apply for deferred action if they are currently involved in deportation proceedings or have earlier been a part of it. They can also apply if they have been ordered for a final removal or a voluntary departure order. As part of the procedure, they have to correctly fill and submit a range of forms to the USCIS. They will also conduct a background check on the applicant before approving them.

If all the documents are submitted correctly and they have passed the background check, the request is complete. They will be sent a receipt notice soon after that. Then USCIS will send a notice for an appointment to visit an Application Support Center (ASC). They will be fingerprinted and photographed there. Once the final decision has been made on the request, USCIS will send a written notice of the decision to the applicant.

The process consists of the applicant paying a fee of $495. It is broken down as a $410 fee for employment authorization and the rest $85 for fingerprints. Fee waivers are not acceptable while fee exemptions are considered only in rare circumstances.

Documents required for DACA

One should gather all financial records like lease agreements, phone, and credit card bills. Medical records, school certificates, employment, and military records should also be kept in hand. 

They also have to submit residential proofs and proof that they have been staying in the U.S. since June 2007.

If an individual has been arrested in the past, they should submit a copy of their criminal history after getting it from the FBI. They should also request for a “certificate of disposition” or a “disposition letter” from each court in which they had a criminal case. This letter — which is to be submitted to the authorities — describes what had been the decision of the judge in each case. 

What are the benefits of the DACA program?

Anyone who has qualified for the DACA program will not be pursued by the U.S. government for deportation for a period of two years. DACA holders can apply for a renewal of their deferred action. They should ideally apply for it at least four or five months before the two years expire because the approval process can itself take up to 120 days. 

They will also receive employment authorization making them eligible to apply for jobs or jobs with higher pay. Those who are requesting for work authorization should prove what USCIS refers to as “an economic need” to work.

One can even receive several other benefits such as a driving license or in-state tuition but it depends on state to state. Some other special benefits include getting a social security card, applying for a credit card, healthcare benefits, or having utility bills in their name.

A survey of DACA recipients two years after the program’s initial launch showed that 59 percent of the deferred action recipients attained new jobs while 49% opened their first bank accounts in the country. 

According to a 2017 survey, it was concluded that the top 25 Fortune 500 companies have around 72 percent of DACA recipients on their payroll. Nearly 97 percent of applicants were enrolled or employed in the school.

The hourly wages of nearly 69 percent of the applicants increased after obtaining their DACA status. 

What does the DACA program not provide? 

Deferred Action does not provide a path to citizenship i.e. it does not provide permanent resident status to their applicants. They will also not be providing lawful status to applicants which is basically another form of classification for a special type of Immigrant status.

The District of Homeland Security (DHS) has the full right to terminate someone’s status at any point in time. Submitting a request for deferred action does not necessarily protect anyone from 

Deportation but they have indicated that the personal information of these applicants will not be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for “immigration enforcement” purposes unless they have met certain criteria as stated in USCIS’ Notice to Appear guidance. The person should not be involved in any kind of criminal activity or be harmful to the security of the nation. Circumstances like being part of a criminal investigation, or submitting fraudulent documents can give the power to the agency to share personal information with ICE and CBP.

How has DACA helped the U.S. economy?

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC), United We Dream (UWD), and the Center for American Progress fielded a national survey to analyze the employment, educational, economic, and societal experiences of DACA recipients.

The study panned out in 46 states and even Colombo with a sample size of 3,063 DACA recipients. 

According to the study, DACA recipients and starting new businesses, buying homes, cars, etc. which are making significant contributions to the economy. 

The dreamers are paying their fair share of taxes and hiring employees which gives them a chance to contribute to their own community and the U.S. economy as a whole. 

Since their wages have also increased after receiving the DACA approval, they have to pay higher taxes which also leads to higher economic growth benefiting all Americans. 

Timeline of DACA after being rescinded by Trump 

There was a huge outcry from various sections of the society when Trump terminated DACA. There were several protests in front of the White House, in the Justice Department and several states.

Many called him selfish and short-sighted and criticized him for not being able to see the benefits of DACA to the U.S. economy. Many well-known figures and celebrities also voiced their dissent. One of them was Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg who wrote on his personal Facebook page: “This is a sad day for our country.”

Three injunctions were passed which favored maintaining the DACA program on a nation-wide basis. The Trump Administration appealed to all these 3 injunctions and even appealed to the Supreme Court, but it did not lead anywhere.

On June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court gave a verdict to overturn Trump’s order. Chief justice John Roberts argued that the Trump Administration did not provide adequate reasoning for ending the DACA program. The order was passed on a 5-4 vote and stated that the move was “arbitrary and capricious. He further added that ending the program is not unconstitutional, but they had violated the terms of the Administrative Procedure Act, which was unlawful.

In conclusion, he suggests DHS look for alternative ways and try a different approach if they plan on terminating DACA in the future. 

Trump was quick in his criticism of the Supreme Court verdict on Twitter and called it “politically charged.”

Despite the Supreme Court overturning Trump’s order, the government has not reinstated DACA and have been rejecting new applicants. 

Congress has also had no progress in this regard. The Senate failed to pass four immigration bills, three of which provided a path to citizenship to the Dreamers. The Democrats had initially reached a compromise with Trump, but it fell through after Trump demanded to construct a wall along the southern border among other things. 

The November 3rd elections are just around the corner, and Presidential candidate Joe Biden has vocally shown his support for the Dreamers.