Latest Developments on Deferred Action for Dreamers

By Robert L. Reeves, Joseph Elias & Nancy E. Miller

It has been a little over one week since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its new policy to grant deferred action to qualified “Dreamers”. On Monday, June 18, 2012, the heads of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) conducted a meeting at which they provided more detailed information about how the policy will be implemented.  

While the procedure for applying has not been finalized, several questions on eligibility and processing have been answered. Deferred action is a remarkable boon for certain young immigrants known as Dreamers. Not only does it remove the fear of deportation for two years at a time, it also grants work authorization, which has ancillary benefits.

Work authorization allows Dreamers to obtain a valid social security number as well as a driver’s license. This opens up a world of possibilities. Many who could not pursue a college degree because they lacked a social security number will now be able to pursue higher education. The cost of higher education has also been a significant factor keeping many Dreamers from pursuing college or advanced degrees. The ability to work with valid work authorization will help alleviate some of this burden and make attending college a reality.

Another benefit of having valid work authorization is that many Dreamers will now be eligible to obtain professional licenses. Many states, like California, require a valid social security number before accepting applications for licensed occupations. For example, until now, Dreamers who completed their education as a Cosmetologist, Termite Inspector, Contractor, Electrician, Plumber, Dental Technician, Nurse, Physical Therapist, Pharmacist, or Physician would be unable to practice in their field of study in states like California because they lacked a valid social security number.

Now that Dreamers will be able to obtain social security numbers, many will be able to obtain licensing in the fields in which they have studied and trained. This opens a door to greater employment opportunities and career development. The DHS provided more information on who may qualify for deferred action and its ancillary benefits. Dreamers must have entered the US before they turned 16 and must not have reached their 31st birthday on June 15, 2012. 

Because they must have been in the U.S. no less than 5 years on June 15, 2012, they must have entered the U.S. no later than June 15, 2007. Dreamers may not file applications for deferred action before they turn 15.  Those under 15, who otherwise qualify, may file on or after their 15th birthday.  If they are in removal proceedings, they may have their cases administratively closed until they are old enough to apply.

The education or military requirement need not have been completed as of June 15, 2012.  Dreamers who do not currently meet those requirements may enroll in school or in a general educational development (GED) course. They need not wait until they have graduated in order to apply. All Dreamers will have to undergo a name and biometric (fingerprint) background check to ensure they will not be a threat to society.

The check is also conducted to determine an applicant’s criminal history (if any). Those who have felony convictions will not be eligible to apply and might be placed in removal proceedings. Dreamers with serious misdemeanor convictions will also be ineligible for deferred action. DHS is in the process of determining what will constitute a serious misdemeanor but has suggested that the term will include convictions for assault crimes, drug possession or trafficking, domestic violence, burglary, larceny or fraud, unlawful possession or use of a firearm and driving under the influence (DUI).

Dreamers with 3 or more non-serious misdemeanors may also be ineligible to apply. Yet to be determined is whether juvenile criminal convictions or convictions vacated on legal grounds will still result in disqualification. Denial of deferred action cannot be appealed. Therefore, to ensure their best chance of success, Dreamers would be well advised to seek professional assistance from knowledgeable and experienced immigration lawyers.