Main menu

Explainer: What Is DACA?

(Image: AP)

February 11, 2015

Updated February 17, 2015 - President Barack Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—better known as DACA—in June 2012 to provide reprieve from deportation to young people who came to the United States as children. In November 2014, Obama announced an expansion of the program as part of a series of executive actions aimed at reshaping the country’s immigration laws. November’s executive action also set up Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), deferring deportation for parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Between DACA’s expansion and DAPA’s creation, as many as 5.2 million people could gain deportation relief.​

DACA’s expansion was slated to go live on February 18, but on February 16 a federal judge in Texas filed an injunction against the program’s changes. In response to the judge’s order and to a lawsuit against Obama’s executive actions filed by a coalition of 26 states, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that DACA would no longer begin accepting applications in its expanded version. The White House said it would appeal the ruling, and DACA and DAPA supporters expect it to be overturned.  

As a legal battle over the implementation of the executive actions begins, AS/COA examines the ins and outs of the existing program and its intended changes.

Who is eligible for DACA?

Because DACA is meant to benefit immigrants who came to the United States as children, only individuals who arrived in the country before their sixteenth birthday are eligible. Applicants must be at least 15 when they apply, though younger applicants may apply if they are currently in the midst of deportation proceedings but have not been detained. They must also be living in the United States when submitting their request for deferred action and must have continuously lived in the country since before June 15, 2007—the program’s expanded form would change this date to June 15, 2010. DACA also requires applicants to be in school, be a high school graduate or holder of a high school completion certificate or GED, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard. Applicants convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors are ineligible for the program.  

Between June 2012 and June 2014, a total of 675,476 young people were granted deferred action through DACA, while an additional 36,588 applicants were rejected. 

What is the application process?

Anyone who fits DACA’s requirements may file for deferred action, even if they are currently involved in deportation proceedings. Applicants must submit a series of forms to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the executive agency that oversees the program. Part of the application process involves presenting documentation proving they meet the program’s requirements. There is also a $465 fee, $380 of which goes toward the employment authorization application, with the other $85 covering biometrics services required by USCIS. 

What are the benefits of DACA?

Under DACA, the U.S. government will not pursue the deportation of qualified individuals for the program's period of three years starting February 18. DACA recipients may apply for a renewal of their deferred action and must do so four months before the three years is up. Another key DACA benefit for undocumented individuals is the opportunity to receive employment authorization, also effective for a three year period. Those requesting work authorization need to do so when they apply for DACA and must demonstrate what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security refers to as “an economic necessity for employment.” 

The American Immigration Council surveyed DACA recipients two years after the program’s initial launch and found that 59 percent had found new jobs since receiving deferred action. On top of that, 49 percent opened their first bank account and 57 percent obtained a driver’s license after qualifying for DACA. Depending on one’s home state, deferred action may qualify recipients for other benefits in addition to driver’s licenses, such as in-state tuition. Also, approved DACA grantees can apply for a program known as advance parole, which could allow international travel for humanitarian, educational, or employment purposes.

What doesn’t DACA do?

Deferred action does not grant permanent resident status to approved applicants, nor does it provide a path to citizenship. It also does not convey lawful status on an individual, which is a governmental classification required to be eligible to apply for some other forms of immigration status. The Department of Homeland Security also retains the right to terminate someone’s deferred action at any time.

Submitting a request for deferred action does not necessarily protect applicants from deportation, but the USCIS says it will not share an applicant's information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for "immigration enforcement" purposes unless the applicant meets select criteria for doing so, namely submitting a fraudulent application or having a criminal history. 

How did President Obama expand DACA?

In November 2014, President Obama announced executive action orders that expanded DACA and created a similar program for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. DACA’s expansion, if implemented, would eliminate the previous age cap that kept anyone over the age of 31 from applying, even if they met the other guidelines, such as coming to the United States as a minor. Obama’s action would also extend the period of deferred action from two to three years and open up the program to individuals who have resided in the country since before June 15, 2010. Originally, applicants had to have lived in the United States continuously since June 15, 2007.

President Obama’s executive actions also set up the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, which would defer deportation for three years for parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (as of November 20, 2014) who continuously resided in the United States since before January 1, 2010, possess no criminal record, and pass a background check. DAPA was tentatively scheduled to launch in May 2015, but the Department of Homeland Security’s February 17 suspension of the program leaves its launch date in question. 

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that DAPA could benefit 3.7 million immigrant parents, while DACA’s expansion may benefit an additional 290,000 people, bringing the total DACA-eligible population to 1.5 million. The institute reports that, together, the two programs could provide deportation relief to 5.2 million undocumented immigrants—equivalent to nearly half the country’s estimated undocumented population.