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What is DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?

Note: In light of an injuction issued by U.S. District Judge William Alsup on Jan. 9, 2018, and bolstered by succeeding federal court rulings, the future of the Trump administration's  ending of the DACA program is uncertain. While no new applications will be accepted, those currently enrolled will not lose their protections under DACA and may renew their DACA enrollment. In addition, the government may not revoke work authorizations or other protections granted to DACA recipients without giving them notice and a chance to defend themselves (pending any further court and/or congressional action).

If you were born outside of the United States and entered the country without proper authorization as a child, you may be able to avoid deportation and obtain temporary work authorization. As the name suggests, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a policy that defers removal action of undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country unlawfully by their parents. Under the DACA, eligible immigrants may avoid deportation for two-years but are not given formal legal status.

The DACA is commonly associated with the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that (if passed) would grant similarly situated immigrants temporary residency for six years with a path to permanent residency. This is why DACA recipients are often referred to as "Dreamers." But DACA, which has been called "DREAM Act Light," does not grant such amnesty and merely defers removal (or deportation) of qualified applicants for a period of two years (renewal is possible at the end of two years). In addition, qualified applicants may apply for employment authorization, but must be able to prove economic necessity.

DACA Eligibility Requirements

Undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children are eligible for deferred action if the following requirements are met:

  • You are under the age of 31 (as of June 15, 2012)
  • You entered the U.S. before reaching the age of 16
  • You have resided in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007 (and up to the present)
  • You were in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and at the time your DACA application was requested
  • You entered illegally (or lawful immigration status expired) before June 15, 2012
  • You are currently enrolled in school; have graduated, obtained certificate of high school completion, or general education development (GED) certificate; or was honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces (or Coast Guard)
  • You are not considered a threat to national security
  • You were not convicted of a felony, a "significant" misdemeanor, or three misdemeanors

It is up to each applicant to provide evidence of his or her eligibility. For example, you may present any U.S. government document bearing your photo and name as proof of identity if you do not have a passport, school ID, or other traditional form of ID. For more information about acceptable forms of evidence and documentation, see the "Initial Evidence" section on page 3 of "Instructions for Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" (PDF).

How Do I Apply for DACA?

If you meet the eligibility requirements and would like to be considered for DACA, see "Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," which includes links to forms I-821D (PDF) and instructions for form I-821D (PDF), current fees, and additional information.

These are the main steps you must take to apply for DACA:

  1. Collect the necessary evidence of eligibility
  2. Complete Form I-821D
  3. Complete Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization), including the accompanying worksheet to establish economic need for employment
  4. File the completed forms, evidence of eligibility and fee payment at a USCIS Lockbox facility
  5. Schedule a biometrics appointment (see the USIC Service and Office Locator to find an office near you)

After filing, you may check the status of your DACA request online. If denied, you may not file a request to reconsider or appeal the decision.

See FindLaw's main Immigration Law page for additional articles and resources.

Get Professional Help with Your DACA / Dreamer Legal Concerns

Immigration laws and policies tend to spark controversy and are highly politicized, but they impact the daily lives of so many people living in the United States, including Dreamers. To speak with a lawyer about U.S. immigration policies and procedures -- and to get the best advice on how to proceed -- contact a local immigration attorney who can guide you through each step of the process and protect your legal rights.

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