Six Reasons To Consider Applying For DACA

by Educators For Fair Consideration

As of October 1st, only 120,000 people had applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), far short of the 300,000 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had expected to process by this time (see LA Times article).  While we recognize that applying for DACA is a personal decision that should be based on each individual's history and situation, we offer these six reasons why qualified individuals should consider applying.

1.  No Matter Who is Elected President, Future Deportation of DACA Beneficiaries is Unlikely

President Obama has vowed that, if re-elected, he would continue the program and allow beneficiaries to renew every two years.

If Mitt Romney is elected, he is also unlikely to deport DACA beneficiaries.  On October 2nd, Romney stated that, if elected, he would not deport or revoke benefits from those approved prior to his inauguration on January 20th, 2013.  (Unfortunately, Romney also said he would close the program to new applicants in January.)

Read more about Romney's position: Mitt Romney Would Honor Deportation Exemptions Issued to Young Illegal Immigrants Under President Obama's Executive Action but Would Not Grant New Ones (The Boston Globe).

2.  Temporary Immigration Benefits Can Lead to More Permanent Remedies

Temporary benefit programs like DACA have been a gateway for more long-term immigration remedies.

For example, in the 1990s, some Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries from El Salvador were initially granted only short-term permits to remain in the U.S. in response to conditions in their country, but later they received lawful permanent residency through the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) enacted by Congress.  Participating in TPS was the primary way Salvadorans met one of the essential requirements for NACARA.  Those who failed to participate in that program and didn't qualify in other ways weren't able to qualify for NACARA.  Read more about NACARA: Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC)’s NACARA Manual.

Furthermore, some experts believe that future permanent solutions for undocumented young people (i.e. the federal DREAM Act) may be restricted to DACA beneficiaries who applied during an early window of time.

3.  DACA Beneficiaries Under Age 18 Won't Accrue Unlawful Presence

Undocumented children who are approved for DACA prior to turning 18 won't accrue unlawful presence as long as they participate in the program.

What is unlawful presence?  Unlawful presence is the time period during which someone is present in the United States without permission.  Unlawful presence begins accruing after someone turns 18, and often has severe consequences in immigration law.  It can prevent otherwise qualified individuals from gaining lawful permanent residency or being able to return to the United States after traveling abroad.

For example, an immigrant who marries a United States citizen, and who would otherwise be eligible for lawful permanent residency based on that marriage, will instead face certain bars if he/she is unlawfully present in the United States.  An immigrant who receives DACA prior to age 18 would be able to avoid these bars connected to unlawful presence.

Similarly, someone who is considered to be unlawfully present will likely have a hard time re-entering the United States if he/she travels abroad, while someone who receives DACA prior to age 18 may avoid such complications.  Through careful review with an immigration attorney, and advanced permission from U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), someone who gets DACA before age 18 may be able to travel internationally without complication or concerns.

Learn more about the possible complications resulting from accruing unlawful presence: USCIS' Consolidation of Guidance Concerning Unlawful Presence.

4.  DACA Beneficiaries Aren't a Priority for ICE

Since Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) doesn't have the resources to process everyone whom it has the lawful authority to deport (i.e. there are simply not enough immigration judges, immigration officers, ICE attorneys, or detention centers to process all potential deportation cases nationally), the agency needs to set guidelines and prioritize deportation cases.

ICE's highest priority cases are those with criminal backgrounds or for people seen as threats to the United States. Conversely, DACA beneficiaries are among ICE's lowest priority cases for deportation.  This means that DACA beneficiaries should feel reasonably protected from deportation, even if there is a change in administration.

Read more about the guidelines that ICE uses in prioritizing cases: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion for the Removal of Individuals

5.  There is Power in Large Numbers of DACA Beneficiaries

Like other important policy changes, the DACA program was not the result of an overnight decision; it was the culmination of many years of struggle.  DACA is the first and only immigration program of its kind whereby the people who now benefit were instrumental in demanding that a change in immigration policy take place.

DACA has the potential to bring over one million young people "out of the shadows" and into the light.  Every new DACA beneficiary will show how undocumented young people can contribute meaningfully to society and will add momentum to the push for future immigration reform.

Get involved in the DREAM Movement: United We Dream &

6.  It Could be Easier Than You Think to Apply for DACA

We know that some people who're qualified for DACA are still hesitant to apply because they don't know how to get help, or they're afraid of expensive legal fees.  In fact, applying for DACA is not difficult, especially since USCIS has recently clarified the evidence requirements and made it clearer how to apply.  Complex cases (i.e. with criminal records, substantial or long-term travel abroad, potential national security threats or fraud, etc.) must be reviewed by an attorney.  But many people with more straightforward cases are fully capable of applying on their own, with little or no attorney assistance.

Pro Se (“Do It Yourself”) Support

Do you feel confident that you can do most of the DACA application yourself, but still want a little help? If so, We Own the Dream offers an online tool that can help you pre-screen yourself and answer the application questions.  They have an avatar-based system, which will walk you through all of the eligibility requirements.  In a few weeks, they'll also have a second avatar who can help you answer the questions on the DACA application forms and create a PDF packet with all of the necessary forms. 

For additional information, you can also visit the DACA resources E4FC has created, including our Step-by-Step Guide and Frequently Asked Questions (created with Curran & Berger LLP).  You can also use our updated DREAMer Intake Service to get information about your eligibility for DACA and other forms of immigration remedies.

Group Processing & Informational Events

If you want to get live help at a legal clinic, you can also go to We Own the Dream’s Events Listings, where you’ll find times, dates and locations for DACA information sessions and clinics happening around the country.  Many events are free or low-cost. 

Individual Attention

If you want one-on-one help, you can also search We Own the Dream’s Find Legal Help.  In their national directory of nonprofit agencies, you may be able to find an agency who can offer you a private consultation and/or provide full representation on DACA cases. In other words, they'll stay with you every step of the way (from prescreening to application to decision).  Please note that nearly all nonprofits will charge a fee (probably under $400) for full representation. 

You may also find a private immigration attorney to represent you by visiting AILA’s Immigration Lawyer Search or the National Immigration Project's Referral Directory, or by contacting your local, state, or county bar association and asking them to provide you with the name of a private immigration attorney who will charge their regular rate.  Private immigration attorneys appear to be charging under $1,000 for a DACA application.

We hope this information helps you to feel more confident in your decision about when and whether to apply for DACA.  We know applying for DACA is a personal decision that requires careful consideration, but we hope we’ve been able to alleviate some concerns that eligible people may have in applying.

Originally published by Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC). Reprinted by permission

About The Author

Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC) supports undocumented students in realizing their academic and career goals and actively contributing to society. This organization offers holistic programming that addresses the financial, legal, career, and emotional health needs of undocumented students.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.