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Latest on DACA: What You Need to Know, Where to Get Help

Update: The Trump administration announced on September 5, 2017 it will end the DACA program. This puts a six-month expiration date on the legal protections granted to some 800,000 people known as “Dreamers,” who entered the country illegally as children. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration plans to “wind down” the 2012 program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation. President Trump has suggested that Congress can pass legislation to reinstate DACA, but this and other immigration legislation including the DREAM Act, have stalled in previous attempts.

What is DACA?

President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a 2012 executive order. The following is a primer on what you need to know about DACA. The program has allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country. Applicants cannot have serious criminal histories, and must have arrived in the U.S. before 2007, when they were under the age of 16.

The program protects them from deportation — granting them a two-year reprieve that can be extended and by issuing them a work permit and a social security number. DACA recipients can live and work legally in the U.S. for renewable two-year periods. DACA recipients could also be pre-approved to travel outside the U.S. in certain circumstances through an “advance parole” application, though Trump has rescinded that option now.

DACA recipients must have no criminal record, proof they were brought to the U.S. before age 16 and be under 31 when the program was launched but at least 15 years old when applying. DACA does not give beneficiaries legal U.S. residency — recipients get temporary reprieves from deportation and permission to temporarily work.

Unlike the failed Dream Act, DACA doesn’t offer a path to citizenship. The Dream Act repeatedly failed to pass Congress during the Obama administration. That legislation would have provided a path to legal U.S. citizenship for the young immigrants who ended up becoming DACA beneficiaries and known as “Dreamers.”

Trump’s DACA Announcement

The Trump administration’s announcement to end DACA will end about five years of deferred deportation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime opponent of the policy, called DACA “unilateral executive amnesty” and said the Obama administration “deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions.” Sessions said DACA “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.”

Former President Barack Obama promptly issued a statement of his own, calling the decision “cruel” and “self-defeating.”

“Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question,” he said. Obama added, “Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us.”

DACA: What Happens Now?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will no longer be accepting new applications under the DACA program. Young immigrants already enrolled in DACA, however, will remain covered until their permits expire.

If their permits expire before March, 5, 2018, they are eligible to renew them for another two years as long as they apply for their two-year extensions by October 5, 2017. If their permits expire beyond that March date, they will not be able to renew and could be subject to deportation when their permits expire.

People who miss the October deadline will be disqualified from renewing their permission to remain in the country and could face deportation, although the Trump administration has said it will not actively provide their information to immigration authorities.

DACA Lawsuits Filed

It didn’t take long for the lawsuits to begin. One day after the announcement, fifteen states and the District of Columbia joined together to challenge Trump’s decision to wind down DACA. 

In the 58-page complaint filed in a Brooklyn federal court, state officials asserted that the administration’s decision would cause “disruptions” in their local economies, education and the health care systems where young immigrants provide “vital services.”

“Rescinding DACA will result in disruptions in each of these fields, as companies and non-profits will be forced to terminate qualified and trained employees who have lost employment authorization,” the court documents stated.

DACA Responsibility Handed to Congress

In light of Trump’s decision, it will be up to Congress to take up and pass legislation regarding DACA beneficiaries.

There are several pending bills in Congress, spearheaded by both Republicans and Democrats, that could gain more steam now that Trump has made the decision to wind down the program in six months. One bill introduced this year would provide a path to legal permanent residency. There are many scenarios in which the bill could be brought up for a vote, combined with other immigration agendas or entirely scuttled through congressional logjams.  

Many DACA beneficiaries say they worry they will be forced to take lower-wage, under-the-table jobs and will be unable to pay for college or assist their families financially.

DACA is a politically charged, evolving issue with far-reaching legal ramifications. If you have DACA or general immigration inquiries questions, your first step should be to connect with a qualified immigration attorney.

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