By Attorneys Eric R. Welsh and Nancy E. Miller
Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a form of immigration relief available to certain qualifying young persons. Since its implementation, DACA has positively affected thousands of lives, providing opportunities and benefits that many young noncitizens had been denied for years. Recent studies now demonstrate that DACA applicants have markedly improved economic and social stability, and increased confidence in the job market and in dealing with government institutions. Reviews of the now one-year-old program are overwhelmingly encouraging.
DACA is available to certain young persons (under age 31 as of June 15, 2012) who: (1) entered the United States before June 15, 2007 at a young age (before turning 16); (2) have resided in the United States continuously since at least June 15, 2007 and up to the present date; (3) are currently in high school, have graduated from high school or obtained a certificate of completion or GED, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces; NS, (4) have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor (including DUI), or three or more misdemeanors. DACA relief does not confer lawful status or a path to permanent residence or citizenship, but, when granted, will defer any removal action against the applicant for a period of two years, subject to renewal. During the two-year period, the applicant will be eligible to apply for work authorization, and if granted, can apply for a Social Security number, driver’s license, and other state benefits.
In a recent survey of DACA recipients, a team of researchers from Harvard and the University of Southern California (National UnDACAmented Research Project) found that DACA has significantly contributed to the incorporation of young adult immigrants into U.S. society and economic institutions. Researchers found that of the cross-section of DACA recipients surveyed, 61% have obtained a new job; 54% opened their first bank account; 38% obtained their first credit card; and 61% obtained a driver’s license. These results show that DACA recipients are putting their DACA benefits to use, obtaining social benefits and competing in the workforce in way that many had never attempted before. DACA recipients can use their lawful work authorization to apply for higher-paying jobs with well-recognized national employers in the private and public sector, and can receive benefits like health insurance and retirement savings. DACA recipients no longer have to accept low-paying work with no benefits.
The survey also suggests that DACA recipients have a stronger attachment to the United States, and a desire for further integration into society. Indeed, 94% of those surveyed indicated that if eligible, they would apply for U.S. citizenship. The vast majority surveyed also reported that many other family members would benefit if comprehensive immigration reform were available (that is, some form of immigration relief similar to DACA but available to persons older than 31 or who entered the U.S. after the age of 16). DACA has proven extremely popular and valuable to those who have received it, and they are eager to see that relief expanded in order to protect their family members.
The economic and social benefits of work authorization are apparent, but many still take for granted the significance of “deferred action” itself. In addition to providing a basis for work authorization, DACA provides protection against any removal action (granted initially for two years, with the possibility of unlimited renewal). Many persons applying for DACA or thinking about applying have personally experienced the dangers of living in the United States without status. Almost 2/3 of the DACA recipients surveyed reported that they knew someone who had been deported, and almost half of those surveyed reported that they worry all or most of the time that a family member or a friend may be deported.
The DACA program has been a wide-ranging success, integrating young adult immigrants into society, and providing economic opportunities that were previously unavailable. The U.S. economy itself benefits from a competitive job market filled with bright, young, international talent, and society benefits by bringing young persons out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Congress continues to debate legislation to reform the immigration laws, but DACA relief is available today.
If you believe you may be eligible for DACA but have not yet applied, you are encouraged to do so. If you have concerns about applying or about eligibility, you are well advised to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney.