On September 5, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would no longer accept new requests for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and will phase out DACA application renewals.
DACA is President Barack Obama's 2012 executive branch initiative that allowed certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to receive relief from deportation and a work permit, which could be renewed in two-year intervals.
However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will, as part of the phaseout, continue to review initial DACA requests (so long as they were already accepted by September 5, 2017) as well as DACA renewals that are filed on or before October 5, 2017.
With the program ending, many of the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients and applicants may wonder whether they should proceed with their DACA applications or respond to requests from the U.S. government for additional evidence.
If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS, you should absolutely respond. Failing to do so means you could miss out on current DACA benefits and potential future relief.
One of President Donald Trump's campaign promises was to end DACA. While many expected DACA to immediately terminate following his inauguration, President Trump instead waited several months, eventually announcing that the program would enter a wind-down phase beginning in Fall 2017.
While many Americans and immigrants are upset at DACA's eventual demise, one piece of good news is that if you have a pending DACA initial application or renewal application that has been accepted by USCIS, you do not have to worry about the new deadlines and can simply wait for your application to be processed.
If your DACA application is approved, you will (at the very least) be authorized to work and live in the U.S. for another two years unless your DACA status is terminated or revoked. Normally, a termination or revocation of DACA protection occurs only if you no longer met the program's requirements (for instance, you were recently charged with a felony or recently left the U.S. without leave to do so).
If USCIS sent you a RFE, additional evidence is necessary for the agency to process your application. The omission could be as simple as failing to have included a copy of a required document, such as a copy of your passport biographical page, your current work permit, or your school records. An RFE is not a denial of your case!
While it is disheartening that DACA is now scheduled to end, you still have the opportunity to receive deportation relief and a work permit for two additional years. Be sure to carefully read the RFE and determine what exactly is needed to process your application and make sure USCIS receives your documents on or before the stated deadline. For more details, see "How to Respond to a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS."
Many worry that USCIS will refer DACA recipients for removal (deportation) proceedings once their authorization period expires. USCIS has stated that DACA application information will not be proactively provided to law enforcement entities such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless there is a risk to national security or public safety or the case otherwise meets the criteria for a referral into removal proceedings.
If the current administration keeps its promises, people with lapsed DACA status will simply be treated like other undocumented immigrants in the United States. Those without DACA protection are more vulnerable if they come into contact with ICE.
While these concerns are valid, it is important to note that USCIS already has this information about you and your family from your initial DACA request. If you do not respond to the RFE, you will either lose DACA protection at the time your current authorization period expires (if you are renewing) or your application will be denied and you will not be able to apply again (if you recently submitted your first DACA request). The $495 filing fee you paid to apply for DACA will not be refunded.
When President Trump ended DACA, he also signaled to Congress that it should act on its own to amend immigration law. Since then, there has been renewed hope that the DREAM Act or similar legislation giving permanent status or residence to those who once qualified for the DACA program will be enacted.
While there is no guarantee that a path to citizenship or amnesty will become law in the future, wouldn't it be terrible if Congress passed a law giving conditional permanent residence to all DACA recipients, and you are not covered because you failed to respond to a RFE?
Bottom line, find out what is needed to process your application and respond to the RFE in a timely fashion. If you need help, seek out an experienced immigration attorney or a reputable nonprofit immigrant advocacy organization.