The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) recently announced plans to appeal a federal court ruling preventing the Trump administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). The DOJ also said it plans to file a petition with the Supreme Court for a direct review of the ruling.
For those wondering what DACA is and why it’s being litigated, we’ve compiled a rundown below.
What is DACA?
DACA is a policy that outlines how U.S. authorities should treat the immigration status of people who were illegally brought into the country as minors. It started in 2012 when then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a letter to immigration and customs officials advising them as to how to handle “certain young people who were brought to this country as children and know only this country as home.” Napolitano noted that, since the children were minors when they entered the U.S., they “lacked the intent to violate” immigration law.
Under the direction of Homeland Security, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting requests for “consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals.” USCIS noted that it would consider requests on a case-by-case basis, and applicants had to meet the following criteria:
- Entered the United States before reaching their 16th birthday.
- Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time.
- Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.
- Entered the country without inspection before June 15, 2012, or had no lawful immigration status as of June 15, 2012.
- Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general educational development certification, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.
- Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat.
- Were present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making a request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS.
Applicants who meet the criteria could receive two-year renewable work permits. Under DACA, they can also obtain driver’s licenses, enroll in college and and receive scholarships, join the U.S. military, legally work and pay taxes.
How many people does DACA affect?
According to USCIS figures from Sept. 4, 2017, about 690,000 unauthorized immigrants are currently enrolled in the DACA program. About 66 percent of enrollees are 25 years old or younger. DACA has granted work permits and other benefits to approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants since 2012.
The DACA program may also affect U.S. tax revenue. A 2016 study by Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated that undocumented immigrants, including those who qualify for DACA, collectively pay an estimated $11.64 billion a year in state and local taxes.
How does DACA relate to the DREAM Act?
DACA was enacted in 2012 after Congress did not pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) for a seventh time the year before. The DREAM Act would have allowed certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to apply for temporary legal status and eventually obtain permanent legal status or U.S. citizenship if they first go to college or serve in the U.S. military.
While DACA allows eligible immigrant children to work, attend college and join the military, it doesn’t provide a path to citizenship. Former President Obama described DACA as a “temporary stopgap measure” intended to give Congress time to pass the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act has been introduced in the Senate at least seven times since 2001. It was first introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); he introduced it again in 2003. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced his version at least four times: once in 2005, and again in 2007, 2010 and 2011. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced a version in July 2017. None of the bills have made it past the “introduced” stage, which means they were never voted on by the full Senate or House of Representatives.
Can DACA recipients apply for citizenship?
According to Immigration lawyer Hadley Bajramovic, since DACA is not an immigrant visa, recipients can’t automatically gain a Legal Permanent Residency (LPR) / Green Card. Undocumented immigrants living in the United States are not eligible to apply for an immigrant visa “without the penalty of being barred from the United States for 3 to 10 years.”
Immigrants typically have to apply for a visa prior to entering the U.S. or after entering the U.S. legally, which is something DACA recipients may not have been able to do if they entered illegally as children. However, DACA recipients may request that a “qualified” relative living in the U.S. petition for them to obtain a visa, or marry a U.S. citizen.
How did we get here?
Here is a brief timeline of DACA-related events:
May 11, 2011: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduces the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) for a fourth time. As with previous attempts, the Act doesn’t move past the introductory stage of legislation.
June 15, 2012: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issues a letter to immigration and customs officials outlining the policy later known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
June 29, 2017: A group of Republican state officials from 10 states request that the Trump Administration rescind DACA by Sept. 5 in exchange for dropping a lawsuit currently pending against the government.
Sept. 5, 2017: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces that the DACA program is being rescinded. Sessions said the Trump administration will stop considering new applications for legal status. Any DACA recipients with a permit set to expire before March 5, 2018 can apply for a two-year renewal if they renew by Oct. 5, 2017.
Sept. 6, 2017: A group of 15 U.S. states and the District of Columbia file a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its decision to end DACA.
Sept. 11, 2017: The state of California files a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its decision to rescind DACA.
Jan. 9, 2018: San Francisco-based Federal District Judge William Alsup rules that the Trump administration must continue accepting DACA renewals nationwide, but it does not need to receive or process new applications.
Jan. 16, 2018: The U.S. Justice Department announces plans to appeal Judge Alsup’s ruling.