The Obama administration’s new immigration benefit, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), begun in summer 2012, allows certain undocumented youth to apply for relief from removal and a work permit for two years. Since then, many eligible applicants have considered the pros and cons of submitting an application -- and a few have gone ahead and applied, while many others have held back. For more on this, see “Risks & Downsides of Applying for DACA.”
Many Young Immigrants Are Eligible for DACA, But Few Have Applied
The Immigration Policy Center has estimated that about 1.8 million immigrants in the U.S. may be eligible for DACA benefits. However, as of fall 2012, only about 200,000 young people in the U.S. had applied. Some young immigrants were wary about providing personal details to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before the 2012 presidential election because the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, was unclear in his comments on whether or not he would continue DACA.
So now that President Obama has won a second term, should you apply for DACA?
DACA Applications Are Being Approved
The question on many immigrants’ minds in considering whether to apply for DACA has been, “Is this real? Will the U.S. government really give people what it’s supposedly offering?” We are still early in the DACA application process, and it will be a while before truly representative approval and denial statistics are released.
However, approvals are certainly being granted. According to USCIS, as of early October 2012, it had accepted 179,794 DACA applications for processing, scheduled 158,408 biometric services (fingerprinting) appointments, and issued 4,591 approvals.
More information on exact numbers, including percentages of approval, should be available in upcoming months.
What President Obama’s Reelection Means for DACA and Immigration Reform
Successful DACA applicants will, under the terms of the original program, receive a two-year stay of deportation (removal) and a work permit, with an opportunity to renew after the initial two years. However, further details about this planned renewal are not yet available. Now that President Obama has been reelected it is likely that he will renew this program after it ends, which was not at all certain had Mitt Romney won the presidency.
Additionally, there is an opportunity for more immigration reform during President Obama’s second term. Among the possible reforms Congress has been considering is a new law called the DREAM Act. This legislation would allow most of the people who are currently eligible for DACA to apply for six years of conditional permanent resident status in order to complete at least two years of college or military service. After fulfilling this requirement, they would be able to apply for full permanent residence (a green card).
President Obama has called the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform one of the largest of his first term, and promised to prioritize such reform during his second term. Is he likely to succeed with respect to the DREAM Act?
The recent election exposed the importance of the Latino vote, which represents the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., along with that community's desire for comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama won over 60% of the Latino vote, while Mitt Romney received a mere 27%. Many attribute this to Romney’s tough anti-immigration stance and promotion of the concept of “self-deportation.”
In response, many Republicans in Congress have shifted their stance and begun expressing support for comprehensive immigration reform. If the DREAM Act is passed, applicants for DACA will have a more permanent solution and a pathway toward U.S. citizenship.
The Bottom Line on Whether to Apply for DACA
With Obama’s reelection, potential applicants have some good reasons to submit a DACA application: USCIS will likely announce a procedure for DACA renewals, Congress will probably revisit and perhaps enact the DREAM Act, and USCIS will continue approving more DACA applications. See the articles on Nolo’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)” page for more information, and consult an immigration attorney for a personal analysis.