Frequently Asked Questions About DACA

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Because the opportunity to apply for deferred action based on childhood arrival to the U.S. is fairly new and some of the eligibility requirements will change in 2015, potential applicants have raised numerous questions about the program. Here are some commonly asked questions and their answers, based on guidance from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and experience with the program so far. (And for further information on this program, see the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" page of Nolo's website).

Question

Everybody is telling me that I should apply for DACA because I’m currently eligible. But is it better to pursue another form of immigration relief first?

Answer

DACA was designed as a last-resort remedy. It’s meant for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and who are pursuing or have successfully completed a secondary education or military service but now find themselves unable to legally work in the U.S. and without any other means to gain lawful immigration status. Successful DACA applicants will be able to work and live in the U.S. for three years without fear of deportation, but the benefits end there.

Therefore, before applying for DACA, all potential applicants should look at other options (as described under “Immigrants Seeking Visas, Asylum, Green Cards, DACA”). Are you eligible for asylum and able to present a compelling case to USCIS? Is there another status or visa you might qualify for? For example, if you are a victim of domestic violence or another crime, you might be able to apply for a U visa (allowing you to remain in the U.S. for four years with work authorization and later to apply for a green card). Is there a qualifying relative who might be able to petition for a green card for you? The bottom line: If there is any chance you might have another, more permanent form of relief available to you, it is best to go over your options with a reputable immigration attorney.

Question

I’m wary about giving my personal details to immigration officials. Can I wait until I’m in removal proceedings to apply?

Answer

The short answer is yes, you can wait to apply. DACA relief is available to all who meet the eligibility requirements (“Who Qualifies for Deferred Action as an Immigrant Student or Graduate (DACA)),” including those who have been placed into removal proceedings for remaining in the U.S. without authorization. However, the real answer might depend on a bit of balancing of the risks versus the rewards of making yourself known to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If you are under 18 and don’t have a risky case (like one of those described at “Who Shouldn’t Apply for DACA Deferred Action)” applying for DACA might be your best option if none other are available to you. That's particularly true because, after your 18th birthday, you will start accruing unlawful presence that may bar you from reentry to the U.S. for three or ten years (even if you are otherwise eligible for a visa or green card), which is a far greater immigration risk than providing personal details to USCIS. If you are granted relief under DACA as a minor child, once you turn 18, the time you spend in the U.S. cannot be used to bar you from returning in the future as long as you renew your status with USCIS.

Finally, it is important to note that DACA is not immigration law, but an executive directive that could be discontinued at any time. If you wait too long to apply, you might miss your window of opportunity to obtain the benefits under DACA. 

Question

I’m 13 years old. Why can’t I apply for DACA?

Answer

DACA is meant to help people who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and are currently in school, have obtained a high school degree or GED, or have honorably completed a tour of military service. A major benefit under DACA is the ability to apply for a work permit. Since most young people under the age of 15 who are eligible for DACA are exclusively focusing on their education (and in many places aren’t legally employable), USCIS limits DACA to applicants older than 15. 

However, if you are 13 and in removal (deportation) proceedings you CAN apply for DACA relief. There is no lower age limit for children in removal proceedings. Otherwise, you may apply on your 15thbirthday, as long as you meet the other eligibility requirements and the program is still in effect.

Question

I went to high school here in the U.S., but that was 20 years ago. I’m 38 now — am I too old for DACA?

Answer

For purposes of DACA, as the program was originally offered, you had to be younger than 31 on June 15, 2012 (born on or after June 15, 1981) to be eligible, either for an initial grant of deferred action or a renewal. The program has been changed, beginning in early 2015, to eliminate this age requirement. As long as you came to the U.S. before age 16, it doesn’t matter how old you are now.

Question

What kind of documentation do I need in order to prove I have continuously resided in the United States? What if I am unable to get a letter from my employer?

Answer

You will need documentation that you lived in the United States on or before June 15, 2010 and continuously since that date. In general, the more “official” the document, the stronger proof it is for USCIS. Compiling such documents might prove easier for younger applicants. For example, if you were still in primary or secondary school in 2010, you will want to submit a letter from your school on official letterhead stating your dates of attendance; or report cards, certificates, or diplomas from that time. 

Older applicants might run into a bit of trouble, as employers can be wary of providing an official letter stating that someone worked for them without authorization. But you are looking to prove “presence” in the United States, not “employment.” Tax records, pay stubs, bank account statements with dated transactions, insurance policies, vehicle registrations, signed leases, and utility bills are all excellent documentation of your time in the United States. 

However, if you lack many of those, you can also provide things like letters from your church confirming your participation in religious services, birth certificates of children born in the U.S. during the relevant time period, and receipts for the sale of goods listing the date, place of business, and your name as proof of your continuous residence.

Question

What happens after the years of protected status are over? Can I renew?

Answer

As of June 2014, USCIS has announced the process for DACA renewal, which includes submitting a new, shorter DACA application, work authorization application, and filing fee. Anyone who was initially granted DACA will be able to renew easily as long as they did not leave the U.S. without permission, did not stop residing in the U.S., and were not convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors. For more information, see "How to Renew Your DACA Status."

The period of DACA protection has been extended to three years beginning in early 2015. Renewals under the new program will be given for a three-year period as well, even if your original grant of DACA was given for two years under the program as it was originally offered.

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