Obama Creates New Deferred Action Program for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents (DAPA)

Understanding what DAPA will offer, and who will eligible once the application period opens.

NOTE: THIS UPDATE WAS WRITTEN IN 2014. IT REFERS TO ACTIONS WHICH HAVE SINCE BEEN PLACED ON PERMANENT HOLD BY THE U.S. FEDERAL COURTS, INCLUDING THE U.S. SUPREME COURT, WITH ITS JUNE 2016 DECISION IN U.S. v. TEXAS.  

Probably one of the most controversial portions of President Obama’s new immigration executive actions is the creation of the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, which will enable the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (LPRs) to apply for a three-year stay of deportation and work permit. It is estimated that this new initiative could offer protection to nearly 3.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

In his remarks to the nation on November 20, 2014, the president spoke directly to undocumented parents, stating “You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.”

Further explaining his reasoning for launching DAPA, Obama stated that he wanted to prioritize the deportation of criminals and those who very recently immigrated illegally to the U.S. over breaking up families that have lived together in the U.S. for many years. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plans to begin accepting applications for DAPA approximately six months after the November, 2014 announcement.

DAPA is modeled after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, first enacted in 2012. Under DACA, eligible young immigrants with five years of continuous presence in the U.S. who were brought to the U.S. before turning age 16 can apply to receive deportation relief and work authorization. Now, with DAPA, if you are the parent of a U.S. citizen or LPR child who was born on November 20, 2014 or earlier and you have been continuously present in the U.S for five years or more, you may qualify for DAPA relief.

While many details on DAPA are yet to come, so far USCIS has indicated that it will make decisions on DAPA on a case-by-case basis and will require applicants to pay back taxes owed on top of the $465 application fee. In addition, applicants with serious or multiple criminal convictions will not be eligible for this relief and may be referred to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if it is determined that the applicant is a threat to national security or public safety.

USCIS has also revealed that there is no age cap on the DAPA applicant’s U.S. citizen or LPR child. That means the child can be three months old or 50 years old and still enable the undocumented parent to apply for DAPA.

It is also important to note that the parents and family members of DACA recipients continue to be ineligible for immigration relief. For example, a mixed-status family may include an undocumented mother, an undocumented son who arrived in the U.S. at age 18, an undocumented daughter who arrived at age 14, and a ten-year-old son who was born in the United States. In this instance, the mother may be eligible for DAPA because she has a U.S. citizen child and the daughter may be eligible for DACA because she arrived in the U.S. when she was under 15. However, the undocumented son would not be eligible for relief under the new executive action unless he also has a U.S. citizen or LPR child who was born before November 20, 2014.

A final reminder: Watch out for scams. Applications for DAPA relief will not be accepted until some time in mid-2015, so anyone who attempts to charge you money to prepare and submit one  before that time  is likely not a reputable practitioner. You may, however, want to start working with a lawyer or on your own to collect documents proving your years of presence in the United States, so that you'll be ready with these when the application period opens.