The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been in place since the Obama administration introduced it in 2012. This unique program allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to defer the deportation of certain immigrants present in the U.S. with no legal immigration status. To qualify for DACA, the immigrants must have entered the U.S. as a child before reaching a certain age, stayed out of any legal trouble, and stayed in school or enlisted in the military. Under the DACA program, qualifying individuals could receive two-year grants of deferment from removal and temporary work permits. Currently, there are about 650,000 individuals enrolled in DACA.
Federal District Court Ruling Restores DACA
DACA has been the subject of continual litigation since former President Trump took steps to end the program shortly after taking office. As of December 4, 2020, a U.S. District Court judge issued an order that completely restored DACA to its original state. As a result, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) is actively accepting initial and renewal applications. USCIS also is accepting applications for Advance Parole for those recipients who need to travel outside the country for specific humanitarian, educational, or employment reasons. Furthermore, the court order requires that anyone who received one-year DACA status or employment authorization granted now has an automatic extension to two years.
A separate lawsuit challenging DACA is still pending in a federal district court in Texas. A total of nine states have asked the district court to declare DACA unlawful, on the basis that only Congress has the authority to provide benefits to immigrants or that former President Obama unlawfully created DACA through the executive order process. If the judge rules that DACA is unlawful, advocates fully expect the Biden Administration to appeal that decision, potentially setting up another showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court. Some fear that the recent change in the U.S. Supreme Court’s composition could lead to a different result for the DACA program than when the High Court left the program intact last year.
The Biden Administration Begins to Address DACA
Over the past four years, Congress has failed to pass legislation protecting DACA recipients and providing them with any long-term relief from deportation. When combined with ongoing litigation going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, DACA recipients have been uneasy in recent years about their prospects of remaining in the U.S. on a long-term basis. On January 20, 2021, his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to take all actions necessary to “preserve and fortify” DACA.
Biden also proposed an immigration bill to Congress that would result in major comprehensive reforms to the nation’s immigration system. A fundamental part of the proposed bill would create a path to citizenship for individuals with no legal immigration status and make permanent legal resident status or green cards immediately available for DACA recipients. After holding green cards for three years, DACA recipients would then be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
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