The Complete Guide to DACA
What is DACA?
The U.S. Government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly called DACA, is a federal program that helps people who arrived in the U.S. as children.
If you came to the United States as a child and are currently undocumented, you may be eligible to apply for delayed removal action and work authorization under DACA – and eventually, your DACA status may lead to U.S. citizenship.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is a U.S. immigration policy that protects just under 800,000 people who entered the United States as undocumented immigrants when they were children.
The program doesn’t provide an official “legal” status, but it does allow people to get work authorization, apply for a driver’s license and receive a Social Security number.
The DACA program was established by President Barack Obama in 2012. The following presidential administration attempted to dismantle the program several times, beginning in 2017, but those efforts failed. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld the DACA program and prevented the administration from destroying it completely. Now, under President Joe Biden, the DACA program is back to its pre-2017 status. People can apply for and renew DACA status.
Who is Eligible for DACA?
Around 1.8 million people are eligible for DACA, but only around 800,000 are using the program. However, new applications are currently being accepted. Your eligibility for the program depends on whether you’re applying for the first time or you’re applying for renewal.
Applying for DACA for the First Time
In compliance with a U.S. District Court order, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services is currently accepting applications for new enrollment in DACA. Many people choose to work with an attorney to handle the application process.
Who is Eligible to Request DACA for the First Time?
You may be able to request DACA if you have never previously been protected under the program and if you:
- Came to the United States before you turned 16
- Were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012
- Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007 and up until today
- Were physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and at the time you make your request for enrollment in the DACA program
- Had no lawful immigration status on June 15, 2012 (meaning you were not in the U.S. on a visa or as a conditional permanent resident at that time)
- Are currently in school or you have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, or you’ve obtained a high school equivalency certificate, or you’re an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces
- Do not pose a threat to national security or public safety
- Have never been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors
The law says that you must be over the age of 15 to request DACA protections, with one exception: If you are currently in removal proceedings, your age doesn’t matter – as long as you were under 31 by June 15, 2012.
Supporting Documentation to Apply for DACA for the First Time
If you’re applying for DACA for the first time, you’ll need supporting documentation. You can provide this documentation to your attorney, who can file your paperwork for you. You may be asked to provide things like:
- Birth certificate
- Birth certificates for your children who were born in the United States
- Charging documents that place you into removal proceedings
- Dated bank transactions
- Deeds, mortgages or rental agreements
- Employment records (such as pay stubs or W-2 forms)
- Hospital or medical records
- Insurance policies
- Official records from a religious ceremony that confirm your participation in it (such as a baptism)
- Passport or national identity document from your country of origin
- Proof of your immigration status
- Proof of your presence in the United States on June 15, 2012 (such as receipts, military orders or records, employment records or other documentation
- Proof of your student status at the time you request DACA, such as official transcripts, diplomas or certificates of completion
- Proof that you are an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or Armed Forces
- Proof that you have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007
- School or military ID
- School records from U.S. schools you have attended
- Tax receipts
- Travel records
The reason many people work with an attorney for first-time DACA applications is that the forms are subject to change – and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will reject your petition outright if you use an outdated or incorrect form. Your lawyer can fill out and file the entire request for you, as well as monitor your application’s process for you. Even better, your attorney will keep you updated and answer your questions as they arise.
Special Circumstances: Are You Eligible for DACA if You’ve Been Convicted of a Crime?
Some people who have criminal histories are ineligible for DACA. If you’ve been convicted of a crime in the past, you may want to talk to an attorney about your next steps. Some misdemeanors may not have any effect on your petition – but if you’ve been involved in the U.S. legal system, USCIS may scrutinize your application.
Some convictions bar you from deferred action. For example, if you have been convicted of a felony, you cannot use DACA. Likewise, “significant misdemeanors” can affect your petition – and so can a series of three non-significant misdemeanors.
Significant misdemeanors are crimes involving:
- Domestic violence
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual exploitation
- Unlawful possession of a firearm
- Unlawful use of a firearm
- Drug distribution
- Drug trafficking
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
What Are Discretionary Reasons?
USCIS can deny your application for DACA for a “discretionary reason.” That means if the USCIS official overseeing your case feels that you’re a threat to public safety or you’re a threat to national security, USCIS can deny your application. Involvement in gangs, participation in criminal activities and a wide range of other circumstances can result in a denial.
How to Renew Your DACA Status
You can renew your DACA status. Many people choose to work with an attorney for renewal because the forms can be complex – and they’re always subject to change. If you want to renew your DACA status, you’ll need the following forms:
You’ll also need copies of your supporting evidence, a cover letter, and a money order made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland security to pay your filing fee.
How Long Can You Wait to Renew Your DACA Status?
You should submit your renewal application at least 5 months (150 days) before your current DACA and employment authorization expire. USCIS will accept your petition as long as your current status isn’t expired – but earlier is better. If you miss the deadline, your DACA status may lapse – and if that happens, you are considered unlawfully present in the United States.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Your DACA Status?
Call our office today for a free consultation. We’ll be happy to answer your questions, walk you through the process, and help you start moving forward with your initial DACA application or renewal.