Through his announcement on November 20, 2014 of an executive order to help millions of undocumented foreign nationals currently living in the United States, President Obama expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented in 2012, also through an executive order.
How was DACA expanded?
DACA is a prosecutorial discretion program administered by USCIS that provides temporary relief from deportation (deferred action) and work authorization to certain young people brought to the United States as children—often called “DREAMers.” While DACA does not offer a pathway to legalization, it has helped over half a million eligible young adults move into mainstream life, thereby improving their social and economic well-being. On November 20, 2014, the Administration modified the DACA program by eliminating the age ceiling and making individuals who began residing here before January 1, 2010 eligible. Previously, applicants needed to be under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, and to have resided here continuously since June 15, 2007.
Moreover, the Administration announced that DACA grants and accompanying employment authorization will, as of November 24, 2014, last three years instead of two.
While USCIS will continue to take applications and renewals under current eligibility criteria, those eligible under the new criteria should be able to apply within 90 days of the announcement, which is February 18, 2015.
How will the government ensure that people eligible for DACA are not deported before the newly expanded program is in place?
DHS has instructed officials in both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to identify expanded DACA-eligible individuals who are already in their custody, in removal proceedings, scheduled for deportation, or whom they newly encounter, and to exercise discretion favorably for those individuals. For eligible individuals in immigration court or before the Board of Immigration Appeals, ICE lawyers are instructed to close or terminate their cases and refer those individuals to USCIS for case-by-case determinations.
How will the DACA program be financed?
Similar to the DACA program that President Obama announced in 2012, the newly expanded DACA program will be financed by a user application fee of $465. DHS has stated that “there will be no fee waivers and very limited fee exemptions.”
Why can’t the President just grant a permanent legal status and be done with this?
The DACA program is a temporary measure, designed to eliminate the fear of removal while the country comes to a resolution about permanent legal status for the unauthorized. The executive branch can defer action, effectively declining to remove an individual, but only Congress can determine who is eligible for permanent legal status and citizenship.
Why isn’t DACA an amnesty?
The DACA program is a temporary measure that does not meet either the technical or the political definitions of amnesty in use today. Technically, an “amnesty” is a governmental pardon, often issued to individuals or groups convicted of crimes, and it represents a form of forgiveness in which the offending party is admitted back into the fold. The 1986 legalization program was often referred to by its supporters as an amnesty—under that program, people who were in the country unlawfully could come forward, prove that they met certain criteria, pay fees, and obtain a green card. Over the years, the term amnesty has been appropriated by immigration critics and restrictionists to imply a “something for nothing” deal, in which legalization is viewed as a reward for entering the country unlawfully. For many immigration critics, anything short of deportation is an “amnesty,” irrespective of the stringent criteria put in place to ensure that unauthorized immigrants pay penalties and fulfill numerous other requirements to obtain a legal status. In the case of DACA, this program offers some unauthorized immigrants a temporary reprieve, but offers neither permanent legal status nor a chance at citizenship. That power remains in the hands of Congress.
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