Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

DACA stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”  DACA is not a law, but is a program that was started by President Barack Obama in 2012 to allow some people who came to the U.S. as children to stay in the U.S. for now and get a work permit.

DACA has been reinstated after efforts by the Trump Administration to terminate the program. USCIS is again processing both initial and renewal applications, as well as applications for advance parole (to allow DACA recipients to travel outside the country for limited purposes). Please contact LSC if you are looking for help with any of these applications.

Do I qualify for DACA?

You are eligible to apply for DACA if you:

  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety
  • Have applied for DACA anytime in the past

What are the benefits of having DACA?

As a DACA recipient, you will have the right to:

  • Live in the U.S. for two years at a time without having to worry about being deported
  • Apply for a Social Security Number
  • Work legally in the U.S. for the two-year period
  • Travel within the U.S. or to U.S. territories
  • Get a California Driver’s License or ID (you can now get a Driver’s License even if you are undocumented and do not have DACA.)

Another benefit of having DACA, if you are under 18, is that you will not accrue what is called “unlawful presence” that could make it more difficult for you to obtain other forms of immigration relief in the future.

What are some of the limitations of DACA?

Even once you get DACA, you unfortunately do NOT have the right to:

  • Apply for federal financial aid for college

Some states like California, however, offer in-state tuition to students who went to high school in California.  Click here for information about other forms of financial aid for undocumented students.

  • Join the U.S. military

Unless you have rare foreign language expertise or specialized health care training.

  • Vote in government elections
  • Get healthcare through the Federal Affordable Care Act
  • Apply for a green card or citizenship, or help your family members get a green card or citizenship
  • Travel outside the U.S. 

Another limitation of DACA is that it is not a permanent status and it does not guarantee that you will not be removed from the U.S.  If, for example, you are arrested for a serious crime or if the program ends in the future.  Also keep in mind that because DACA was created through an executive action by President Obama, rather than the passing of a law, DACA could change or even end when a new president comes into office in January 2017.

What are the risks of applying for DACA?

For an applicant without any criminal or juvenile history, there are currently no major risks in applying for DACA.  Your DACA application will be sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS), which is a separate branch of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) from Immigration Customs and Enforcement (“ICE”).  ICE is the enforcement branch of DHS, which does prosecute and sometimes deport undocumented individuals.  The job of USCIS, on the other hand, is to process applications for visas, green cards, and citizenship.  USCIS does not deport people.  USCIS has said that it will only share the information provided in a DACA application with ICE if it determines that the applicant poses a threat to national security or public safety.  This does not apply to most DACA applicants, but if you have any kind of criminal or juvenile background, you should consult with an attorney before applying for DACA.

The only other risk of applying for DACA is that your application could be denied, and the application fee of $495 would not be refunded.  There is no way to appeal a denial of a DACA application.

Am I still eligible for DACA if I’ve been arrested?

Maybe.  If you are in this situation, you should talk to a lawyer before applying for DACA.  Having an arrest by itself does not disqualify you from receiving DACA.  You will, however, have to disclose the arrest on your DACA application and explain what happened.  If you were arrested as a juvenile (under 18) and adjudicated (found guilty) of any offense, you are still eligible for DACA.  Only people who have been convicted as an adult of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors are ineligible for DACA.  Since it can be complicated to figure out if any of these apply to you, you should speak with an attorney if you’ve had any kind of contact with the police at all.

Any kind of criminal activity, adult or juvenile, can affect your DACA application even if it does not make you ineligible.  This is because DACA is a discretionary form of relief, meaning that the immigration office will weigh all of the positive factors in your case against any negative factors to decide whether to give you DACA.  So, even if you qualify for DACA, your application could still be denied if you have significant negative factors in your case.  Specifically, you will not be granted DACA if the immigration office determines that you pose a threat to national security or public safety.  An attorney can help you weigh the strengths and weaknesses in your case to decide whether it is a good idea for you to apply.

How much does it cost to apply for DACA?

The total cost of applying for DACA is $495.  This amount is made up of a $410 fee to file the DACA application and an $85 fee to complete your biometrics appointment (when Immigration takes your fingerprints and photograph).  Both Mission Asset Fund and the Self-Help Credit Union provide loans to help cover the cost of the DACA application.

How do I apply for DACA?

The first step is to obtain a copy of your previous DACA application forms and send them to Immigration with the application fee and two passport photos.  Shortly after submitting your application, you will receive a receipt notice and then a notice to attend a biometrics appointment, at which Immigration will take your fingerprints and photograph.  Within about six months after submitting your application, you should receive a response.

Sometimes, before receiving a final answer, Immigration will send a “Request for Evidence” (“RFE”), asking you to send in additional evidence to show that you qualify for DACA.

When and how do I apply to renew my DACA?

Your employment authorization document (“EAD”), also known as a work permit, shows the dates that your DACA is valid.  We recommend that you contact LSC to begin the renewal process at least six months before your DACA will expire, and send your application at least four months before the expiration date.  The renewal process is much simpler than the initial application, as it does not require you to submit proof of continuous presence or any of the other evidence you submitted with your original application.  If your DACA is getting close to expiring, contact LSC today for help with your renewal application.

Click here for a list of DACA Resources

How can LSC help me?