By Attorneys Eric Welsh & Nancy E. Miller

Two years ago, the Department of Homeland Security implemented a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a form of immigration relief available to certain qualifying young persons.  Since its implementation, DACA has positively affected thousands of lives, providing opportunities and benefits that many young noncitizens had been denied for years.  Studies conducted since its implementation show that DACA recipients have markedly improved economic and social stability, and increased confidence in the job market and in dealing with government institutions.  Reviews of the now two-year-old program are overwhelmingly encouraging.

DACA is available to certain young persons (under age 31 as of June 15, 2012) who: (1) entered the United States before June 15, 2007 and before reaching age 16; (2) have resided in the United States continuously since at least June 15, 2007 and up to the present date; (3) are currently in high school, have graduated from high school or obtained a certificate of completion or GED, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces; and, (4) have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor (including DUI), or three or more misdemeanors.  DACA relief does not confer lawful status or a path to permanent residence or citizenship, but, when granted, will defer any removal action against the applicant for a period of two years, subject to renewal.  During the two-year period, the applicant will be eligible to apply for work authorization, and if granted, can apply for a Social Security number, driver’s license, and other state benefits.  DACA recipients can work lawfully for any employer, open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, and in some instances, receive permission to travel internationally.

Persons who did apply for DACA benefits when DACA first became available are now eligible to renew DACA status for another two years.  DACA is only granted in two-year increments, and DACA does not renew automatically.  In order to maintain status without interruption (including disruption to employment authorization), DACA recipients should apply for renewal 120 days prior to the expiration of the current DACA.  Renewal applicants will need to demonstrate that they have not left the United States since August 15, 2012 without advance parole (travel permission), have continuously resided in the United States since initially applying for DACA, and, have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to public safety or national security.

According to a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), to date, less than half of the unauthorized immigrant youth who are potentially eligible for DACA have applied for DACA relief.Thirty (30) percent of all immediately eligible youth reside in the state of California.  A majority of applicants (77 percent) are from Mexico.  Within populations of eligible applicants, young persons from Latin American countries tend to apply at a higher rate than those from Asian countries (for example, 62% of eligible Mexican youth applied, while only 26% of eligible youth from the Philippines applied).  Women appear to be more likely to apply for DACA than men (the MPI study suggests this may be because young men are more likely to face a disqualifying criminal record, and are more likely than young women to drop out of school).   Men and women who are not currently qualified should know that GEDs, returning to school, expungements of criminal convictions and post conviction relief may allow them to qualify for DACA.

In addition to eligible youth who have yet to apply and those eligible for renewal, there is a constant expansion of eligibility for those youth who “age in” to eligibility by turning 15.  Any otherwise eligible youth is encouraged to apply for DACA benefits upon reaching age 15.

The DACA program has been a wide-ranging success, integrating young adult immigrants into society, and providing economic opportunities that were previously unavailable.  The U.S. economy itself benefits from a competitive job market filled with bright, young, international talent, and society benefits by bringing young persons out of the shadows and into the mainstream.  Congress continues to debate legislation to reform the immigration laws, but DACA relief is available today.
If you believe you may be eligible for DACA but have not yet applied, you are encouraged to do so.  If you have concerns about applying or about eligibility, you are well advised to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney.

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