What Is DACA? Everything You Need to Know
Our guide to the program that protects certain young immigrants from deportation
What is DACA?
DACA, an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a policy that protects around 800,000 young people — known as “DREAMers” — who entered the United States unlawfully as children. The program does not grant them official legal status or a pathway to citizenship, but it does allow them to apply for a driver’s license, social security number, and work permit.
President Trump repeatedly tried to dismantle the program, established by President Barack Obama in 2012. A federal judge ruled in December, 2020 that first-time DACA applicants were permitted to apply, after the Trump administration stopped accepting new applications. He also extended the renewal period to two years, from one year.
In October 2022, the Biden administration’s final DACA rule went into effect, shortly after a federal judge ruled that the program could temporarily continue but new applicants would still be barred from applying. As of 2023, no date has been set for additional hearings to confirm DACA’s future, long-term status.
This guide will explain DACA, the requirements, how to apply, and where the program stands now.
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Approximately 1.8 million people are eligible for DACA, according to the Center for American Progress, but as of March 2020, a little more than 800,000 people were enrolled in the program.
Applicants must meet the following major DACA requirements:
- Entered the United States unlawfully prior to their 16th birthday
- Have lived continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007
- Were under age 31 on June 15, 2012 (born on June 16, 1981 or after)
- Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making their request for consideration of deferred action with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012
- Have completed high school or a GED, have been honorably discharged from the armed forces, or are enrolled in school
- Have not been convicted of a felony or a serious misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety
Immigrants up to the age of 31 can file for the protections and opportunities this program offers.
How to Apply
If you are applying for DACA for the first time, you will need to:
- Complete Form I-821D (officially called “Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”) and Form I-765 (officially called “Application for Employment Authorization Document”)
- Mail USCIS the forms and fees (currently $495, which includes $85 for biometrics)
- Set up and attend a biometrics appointment at a local USCIS Application Support Center
- Proof of identity: This could be in the form of a passport, birth certificate, state-issued photo ID, military ID, or school ID.
- Proof you came to the United States before age 16: This could include a copy of your passport with a stamp, your Form I-94, any INS documents with date of entry, travel records, school records, hospital or medical records, and official religious ceremony documents
- Proof of established residence prior to age 16, if you left the U.S. and returned later: Acceptable documents include school records, employment records, tax returns, bank letters, or a verification of employment
- Proof of residency since June 2007: This could include payment receipts, utility bills, employment records, tax returns, school records, medical records, money orders for money sent in and out, birth certificates of children born in the U.S, dated bank transactions, car receipts/title/registration, and/or insurance policies
- Documents to prove any absences from the U.S. since 2007 were brief, casual, and innocent: Acceptable documents include a plane ticket, passport entries, hotel receipts, or evidence of travel intent
- Proof of presence in the U.S. on June 15, 2012: This could include rent payment receipts, utility bills, employment records, tax returns, school records, medical records, money orders for money sent in and out, birth certificates of children born in the U.S, dated bank transactions, car receipts/title/registration, and/or insurance policies
- Proof of no lawful status on June 15, 2012: Form I-94 with expiration date, final order of removal or deportation as of June 15, 2012, or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document about removal proceedings
- Proof of current education, graduation, G.E.D., or military service: Acceptable documents include current enrollment in elementary, middle, high school, or home school; education or literacy program, GED program, college/university/community college, diplomas, transcripts showing graduation date, and/or dates of enrollment
- Proof of honorably discharged veteran status: Form DD-214, NGB Form 22, military personnel records or health records
- Proof of removal proceedings: Copy of the removal order, any document issued by the immigration judge, or the final decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)
- Proof of Criminal history: Official statement from arresting agency that no charges were filed, or if charged/convicted, an original or court-certified copy of the complete arrest record and disposition for each incident; an original or court-certified copy of the court order vacating, setting aside, sealing, expunging, or otherwise removing the arrest or conviction
USCIS recommends DACA recipients submit their renewal requests between 120 and 150 days before their current DACA expires. To request a DACA renewal, the following conditions must be met:
- Applicant did not depart the United States on or after Aug. 15, 2012, without a valid travel document (Form I-131)
- Applicant continuously resided in the United States since submitting their most recent approved DACA request
- Applicant has not been convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and does not pose a threat to national security or public safety
How to Renew
- Proof of updated deportation or removal proceedings since initial application: See above
- Proof of any additional criminal history since initial application: See above
DACA renewal fee: $495
USCIS has put together some helpful tips on renewing DACA, including filing on time and making sure you submit all the required forms and documents.
The DACA program was established after Congress failed to pass Obama’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act aimed at granting legal status to young immigrants living in the United States. In the absence of legislative support, Obama issued DACA via executive order as a temporary measure.
The original DACA program:
- Allowed young non-documented immigrants to avoid deportation and obtain work permits for a period of two years
- Created a program that was renewable based on good behavior
- Allowed certain immigrants to apply, based on the following requirements:
- Be younger than 31 on June 15, 2012
- Came to the United States when they were younger than 16
- Lived in the United States since 2007
The Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it would start to phase out the DACA program. Several court cases prevented the full repeal of DACA, with the Supreme Court ruling in 2020 that an attempt to do so was “arbitrary and capricious,” as well as a violation of federal law. Nevertheless, President Trump still managed to put various restrictions in place, including:
- A reduction in the length of time the program ran, from two years to one
- All renewals had to be within 150 to 120 days before the existing application expired
- The rejection of all new DACA applications
- All requests by DACA recipients for travel outside of the United States were denied except in cases where “exceptional circumstances” were established. Under the original program, DACA recipients could travel outside the United States for humanitarian reasons, education and employment with a valid travel document
In November 2020, a federal judge in New York ruled that Chad Wolf, the acting head of the DHS, did not have the authority to make changes to the DACA program, and those rules were therefore invalid.
The following month, a federal judge ruled that first-time applicants were once again permitted to apply. In January, 2021 President Joe Biden issued an executive order formally reinstating the program. Biden’s sweeping immigration agenda included a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, but the administration has faced repeated legal hurdles to make headway on legislative progress to fortify the program.
In July 2021, a federal judge ruled that first-time DACA applicants were barred from applying to the program. USCIS has confirmed that all individuals whose DACA requests were approved prior to July 16, 2021 will continue to have DACA status and all DACA requests that were approved before July 16 will continue to be eligible to renew DACA and DACA work permits. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will also continue to accept the filing of initial DACA and employment authorization requests, but they cannot approve initial DACA and EAD requests on account of judge’s ruling.
Despite the Biden administration’s persistent efforts to preserve DACA, in October 2022 a federal judge ruled that the program could continue only temporarily and that new applicants would still be unable to apply. As of January 2023, no future hearings have been set to confirm DACA’s status or whether the program can open up to new applicants. The Biden administration published a final rule on the program in late October 2022, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stated it will continue to protect the program and call on Congress to pass legislation solidifying its permanent status. If a judge ends the program in the future, the current government will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
DACA students are not eligible for federal financial aid. However, they may be able to access financial assistance at the local or state level. Some states allow DACA students to receive in-state aid as part of their tuition. For more information, check out the Boundless guide on resources available for Dreamers to pay for college.
DACA recipients are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The program does not grant them official legal status or a pathway to citizenship. However, a DACA recipient may be eligible for a marriage green card under certain conditions.
DACA recipients can apply for authorization to travel outside the United States. Known as Advance Parole, this document allows DACA recipients to travel abroad only for employment, educational, or humanitarian purposes. USCIS does not consider travel for vacation a valid purpose.
Currently, adult DACA recipients who meet the income and other Medicaid requirements are eligible for coverage in California, Minnesota, and New York. Some other states offer limited Medicaid benefits to DACA recipients.