On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for Dreamers, as they are commonly known. The program was implemented under the Obama Administration to provide protection to young people who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, attended high school, and could show residence in the U.S. since at least 2007. Anyone with a serious criminal record, including any felony conviction or certain misdemeanors, was disqualified from the program. DACA came with work authorization valid in two-year increments, and an implicit promise from the government that it would not take immigration enforcement action, such as deportation proceedings, against anyone enrolled in the program as long as they did not commit any crimes.
DACA was never considered a permanent solution and it always came with the risk that the government would unilaterally terminate DACA status for any reason. Termination of status was an almost certain result for the very few Dreamers who committed crimes after receiving DACA, but for the nearly 800,000 Dreamers who have maintained their status and been working for the last five years, the sudden decision to cast people back into the shadows has been sending shockwaves through families, schools, workplaces, and communities across the country.
Dreamers come from countries all over the world, including in the largest numbers, Mexico and Central and South American countries, along with Central and South Asian countries, such as South Korea and the Philippines. The government now has detailed information regarding the location and immigration histories of people it never had before and some Dreamers have final orders of deportation that could make them vulnerable to deportation as soon as their status is terminated. All of this comes to a head in the face of credible rumors that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is planning “Operation Mega,” a massive raid with the aim of rounding up 6,000 to 10,000 immigrations around the country in mid-late September.
[Note: Thursday night, NBC News reported that Operation Mega will not happen on that timetable: "While we generally do not comment on future potential law enforcement actions, operational plans are subject to change based on a variety of factors," ICE spokesman Sarah Rodriguez said in a statement. "Due to the current weather situation in Florida and other potentially impacted areas, along with the ongoing recovery in Texas, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had already reviewed all upcoming operations and has adjusted accordingly. There is currently no coordinated nationwide operation planned at this time. The priority in the affected areas should remain focused on life-saving and life-sustaining activities."]
The Trump Administration proposes a phase-out of DACA that may allow some to prepare for alternatives, or even allow Congress to enact legislation to take the place of this executive program. The immediate priority for a Dreamer should be protecting yourself long-term. Here’s what we know about the end of DACA:
Forms and additional instructions are available for free at uscis.gov. It is critical for those Dreamers who are eligible for DACA extensions to act quickly to prepare and file extension applications by October 5, 2017. The future for Dreamers is entirely uncertain but it is possible that some people are currently eligible for greater, long-term benefits through other means. Some may be eligible for immigration benefits through family members (i.e. spouses, parents, children, or siblings), and others may be eligible for benefits through an employer, particularly if they have an employer willing to sponsor them. In some cases, Dreamers may also be eligible for humanitarian visas, such as asylum or visas that are available to victims of serious crimes in the U.S.
As soon as DACA status is terminated, whether that be tomorrow or a few years from now, Dreamers will start to accrue unlawful presence for being in the U.S. without permission. Unlawful presence involves penalties in the realm of immigration benefits that can make the difference between being eligible for a benefit such a visa or green card, and being deported. Dreamers who believe they may be eligible for immigration benefits should consult with an experienced immigration lawyer as soon as possible to avoid any potential impact for losing DACA protection.