New Immigration Reform Bill Has Special Provision for DACA Recipients

By Robert L. Reeves, Nancy E. Miller and Joseph I. Elias

We recently wrote about the compelling reasons for young immigrants, known as Dreamers to apply for deferred action and work authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. We discussed why Dreamers should apply for DACA now while waiting for comprehensive immigration reform to be enacted. Since then, the U.S. Senate’s Gang of Eight released their comprehensive immigration bill that, hopefully, will provide a pathway to legal status for many undocumented immigrants. This bill includes a very special provision for DACA beneficiaries. It authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to streamline the benefit application procedure process for those young immigrants who applied for and received DACA benefits prior to the passage of the new law.

Under the currently proposed bill, the process for undocumented immigrants to become lawful permanent residents will take a minimum of 10 years.  That number assumes both that the border will be sufficiently closed to allow for adjustment and that processing times for applications will be reasonable.  Neither of those assumptions is absolute.  While there is nothing in writing detailing what the streamlined benefits will be, the “unofficial talk” is that DACA approved aliens will be able to apply for their green cards in half that time.  There does not appear to be a “sufficiently closed border” precondition attached to their ability to file either.

This is a very important leg up for Dreamers and a brand new reason for them to waste no time in applying for DACA benefits. Applying for DACA now allows Dreamers to obtain their permanent resident status (green cards) years ahead of other undocumented immigrants. It is now clear that the wait-and-see approach will only serve as a setback to Dreamers. Dreamers should quickly take advantage of the next few months and use them to file for DACA benefits while Congress debates and finalizes the comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The streamlined process for the green card is only authorized for Dreamers who receive DACA benefits prior to the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform. It will not be available for DACA applicants will apply after the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform.

This advantage is more apparent when taken into context of the overall immigration picture for undocumented immigrants. The U.S. Government estimates that there are approximately 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States eligible to apply for documented status under comprehensive immigration reform. The USCIS and immigration practitioners alike anticipate a flood of applications will be submitted on the establishment of an eligibility filing date for permanent resident status. Only DACA-approved Dreamers will be allowed to process under the streamlined approach. All others will be processed in the same order and manner as non-Dreamers. They will be subjected to a heavier documentation requirements and longer processing times than those previously granted DACA.

So, not only does DACA provide faster processing for green cards in the future, but, it also provides Dreamers with immediate benefits such as work authorization valid for two years. Those who apply now will receive their work authorization well in advance of those who wait to obtain work authorization through comprehensive immigration reform—possibly 1 to 1.5 years earlier. This work authorization allows Dreamers to enter into the labor market much earlier. In addition, work authorization allows manyDreamers to obtain driver’s licenses as well as professional licenses needed to start their careers. And, Dreamers also receive protection from deportation. Some may even receive international travel authorization under certain circumstances. None of this is available toDreamers who wait for comprehensive operation reform before taking action.

Dreamers qualify for DACA if they can meet the following requirements:

1. Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;

2. Have continuously resided in the United States from June 15, 2007 and are present in the United States on June 15, 2012;

3. Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;

4. Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and

5. Are not above the age of thirty as of June 15, 2012.

For those DREAMERS who continue to ask, “Why file now?” the answer is, “Why wait to jump start your life and miss out on being the first to get your green card?”