Should You Apply for DACA Before Obama Leaves Office?

The Obama Administration’s actions gives undocumented immigrants some reassurance and good reasons to submit a DACA application now, but the next president doesn't have to continue DACA.

The Obama administration’s immigration benefit known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), begun in summer 2012, allows certain undocumented persons to apply for relief from removal and a work permit for three years. Many eligible applicants have considered the pros and cons of submitting an application -- and many have gone ahead and applied, while others have held back. For more on this, see “Risks & Downsides of Applying for DACA.”

Many Immigrants Are Eligible for DACA, But Not All Have Applied

The Immigration Policy Center estimated that about 1.8 million immigrants in the U.S. were eligible for DACA benefits when the program began in 2012. However, as of the end of fiscal year 2014 (September 30, 2014), only about 750,000 people in the U.S. had applied. Some 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 he would continue DACA.

Of course, President Obama won a second term in 2012, and then expanded DACA eligibility in November 2014. But DACA is an executive action subject to change by whoever is president. This being the case, should you apply for DACA while President Obama is still in office?

DACA Applications Are Being Approved

At first, the question on many immigrants’ minds in considering whether to apply for DACA was, “Is this real? Would the U.S. government really give people what it was supposedly offering?” Approval and denial statistics from the first several years of the DACA program are now available, and they show that DACA has benefitted a large number of people.

According to USCIS, by the end of fiscal year 2014 (September 30, 2014), it had received 743,373 DACA applications for processing and issued 610,375 approvals. The rest of the applications were either denied or still awating a decision. A total of 121,323 people had applied for renewal of their DACA status.

More information on exact numbers is available on the USCIS website.

What President Obama’s Reelection Meant for DACA

Successful DACA applicants now receive a three-year stay of deportation (removal) and a work permit, with an opportunity to renew after the initial three years. The reelection of President Obama ensured renewal of the DACA program, which was not at all certain had Mitt Romney won the presidency. President Obama not only continued DACA, he expanded it to include more recently arrived persons, extended the deferral period to three years, and lifted the age limit on those who are eligible to apply.

The End of DACA?

DACA, being an executive action on the part of President Obama, is subject to change or reversal by either Congress, the courts, or the next president. Among the possible reforms Congress has been considering in recent years is the so-called DREAM Act. This legislation would allow most of the people who are currently eligible for DACA to apply for conditional permanent resident status in order to complete college or military service. After fulfilling this requirement, they would be able to apply for full permanent residence (a green card). However, the current Congress does not appear inclined to pass the DREAM Act, or any such type of immigration reform while President Obama is in office. At the same time, it does not appear that Congress will be able to block President Obama’s deferred action initiatives such as DACA, and any court challenge would likely not be successful.

Those who are opposed to the aims of the DACA program are counting on the election of a new president who will discontinue it. Any such action by a new president, taking away a “benefit” that has been established for several years, will not be easy politically, but it is certainly possible.

The Bottom Line on Whether to Apply for DACA While Obama Is Still in Office

While Barack Obama is still president, potential applicants have some good reasons to submit a DACA application now, rather than putting the decision off until 2017. The Obama administration has demonstrated its commitment to the DACA program, most recently by expanding its scope. There is no guarantee that the next president will support or even continue DACA, and he or she may be willing to sign legislation that withdraws protection for childhood arrivals.

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