DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is the Obama administration’s program to address the immediacy of bringing undocumented children out of the shadows and functioning in the real world.
DACA went into effect June 15, 2012, encouraging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use their resources in a rational manner. In other words, use their discretion when prioritizing cases. Rationally, immigrants brought to the U.S. under the age of 16 by their parents are low priority cases. DACA was a welcome relief for young immigrants who had no say in the decision to immigrate, but have grown up in the U.S. DACA could result in these children getting permission to work, a social security number and a driver’s license with insurance.
However, DACA applications weren’t accepted until August of 2012 in order to give government time to develop the forms, processes and staff. This lapse of time created an opportunity for unscrupulous individuals to try and jump in on a perceived windfall. Some lawyers, who didn’t otherwise practice immigration law, and some notarios saw dollar signs. The result was that some DACA recipients were given poor advice or not screened properly for eligibility. Moreover, there were those who asked for payment upfront in exchange for putting the DACA applicant first in line when applications were accepted. However, there was no such option as being considered first.
As these young folks came out of the shadows to claim their place in their communities, the possibility of other forms of relief also came to light; possibilities that had gone unidentified while they remained out of sight. However many times, these opportunities were not identified when DACA applications were processed en mass by those not versed in the complexities and nuances of immigration law. DACA wasn’t always the best option, depending on the young immigrant’s history. In some case, filings by family members long ago, marriages to U.S. citizens, or visas available to some victims of crime became alternatives that produced far better results than DACA. These options required a careful and detailed analysis.
DACA is not the DREAM Act. If passed, the DREAM Act would grant permanent residence plus all accompanying benefits to qualified young immigrants. DACA does provide a stay of deportation from the U.S. but doesn’t, at least under the current policy, lead to U.S. legal residency.
Before applying for DACA, young immigrants need to carefully review personal, immigration, and criminal history and any risks associated with giving background information to the government with an experienced immigration lawyer. DACA requires proving the applicant is an “American kid” who speaks English, has gone to school in the U.S. through the high school years and doesn’t have a criminal record. Evidence that must be submitted to establish the applicant’s continuance presence in the U.S., proof of a high school diploma or equivalent, and proof of a lack of criminal history.
DACA gives some children the unique place in the immigration system that they deserve. DACA also creates a shorter path for young undocumented immigrants to function legitimately in society. It allows for a safe society while being a safe haven. It is not the silver bullet in all cases. DACA applicants have waited a long time for any glimmer of hope and as a result many are instinctively reaching for this limited relief. They may be unwittingly passing up a greater opportunity by not seeking out diligent and competent representation.