The Trump administration’s record with handling immigrant children has been in the news since the beginning. The attempted discontinuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was one of the prominent decisions to come out during Trump’s tenure, who tried to stop the program in September 2017. Following this attempt, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stopped accepting new applicants. Thankfully, this decision has been reversed and DACA restored by a federal judge.

On December 4, 2020, U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ordered the DHS to restore the full DACA program and increase the one-year status of recipients to two years. A two-year limit was the norm before Trump reduced it to one. As part of the DACA restoration decision, the judge also directed the government to produce a status report on the DACA program to the court by January 4, 2021, including, but not limited to, “first-time DACA applications received, adjudicated, approved, denied, and rejected from November 14 until December 31, 2020.”

The current DACA renewal decision by Grarufis followed another one he made concerning Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. According to Grarufis, “Wolf was not lawfully serving as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security under the HSA when he issued the Wolf Memorandum.” Therefore, the new DACA rules made by him were invalid.

USCIS DACA Renewal

In response to the court’s order to post a public notice within 3 three days of the order, the DHS posted a DACA update on their website on December 7. According to the notice, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has started to do the following:

  • Accept first-time DACA dreamers, renewal requests, and applications for advance parole documents according to the DACA policy in place prior to September 5, 2017.
  • Extending one-year DACA grants to two years; and extending one-year employment authorization to two years.

Besides the above-mentioned actions of the USCIS, the website also mentions that “DHS will comply with the order while it remains in effect, but DHS may seek relief from the order.”

The DACA restoration decision has been lauded by immigration rights advocates: “The ruling is a huge victory for people who have been waiting to apply for DACA for the first time,” said Veronica Garcia, staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), reported Vanessa Romo for NPR.

The Political Side to DACA

The court decision comes at a time when we are expecting to see major changes in the policy and personnel related to immigration. President-elect Joe Biden is it expected to reverse many of Trump’s most controversial immigration policies.

According to the plan given on his website, “Biden will remove the uncertainty for Dreamers by reinstating the DACA program, and he will explore all legal options to protect their families from inhumane separation.” Moreover, Biden plans to ensure DACA dreamers are eligible for federal student aid and are included in proposals to provide access to community college.

In terms of personal, Biden plans on making major changes there as well. Alejandro Mayorkas, the first Latino in Joe Biden’s Cabinet, will head the DHS. If confirmed by the Senate, the Cuban American will be the first Latino and first immigrant to head the department.

The DACA Applicants

DACA holders and hopefuls represent a sizeable portion of the immigrant populations from their native countries. The majority of the recipients are from South America, but there are also dreamers from Poland, Jamaica, the Philippines, Korea, etc.

According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), 1,331,000 immigrants are immediately eligible for DACA, and 645, 610 have received DACA as of June 2020. In terms of the country of origin, a vast majority of DACA recipients (519,690) and immediately eligible dreamers (880,000) are from Mexico. Other countries with sizeable recipients and eligible populations include El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Korea, Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia.

How do I apply for DACA? – DACA Requirements

A person can apply for DACA if they:

  • were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012;
  • came to the US before their 16th birthday;
  • were present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012;
  • had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
  • have continuously lived in the US since June 15, 2007;
  • are in school, graduated from high school, or have a Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED);
  • were honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • have not been convicted of certain crimes

A person can apply for DACA using the USCIS form I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. A DACA renewal package usually consists of the I-821D, I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and I-765 worksheet. Form I-765 is required even if the applicant will not be working. At present, the DACA application fee, including employment authorization and biometric services is $495, according to the USCIS.

Since its introduction in June 2012, DACA has helped around 800,000 undocumented people, report Tom K. Wong et.al. for the Center for American Progress. Research suggests that the average hourly wage of DACA recipients increased by 69% since approval, Wong et.al. adds. Besides the opportunity to receive employment, DACA may allow recipients to obtain other benefits, such as in-state tuition and a driver’s license. The acceptance of new applicants is good news for the over 1,000,000 eligible immigrants. While there is still a possibility that the DHS will contest the ruling, the change of regime is expected to bring more good news for dreamers.

Richard Herman is a nationally renowned immigration lawyer, author, and activist. He has dedicated his life to advocating for immigrants and helping change the conversation on immigration. He is the founder of the Herman Legal Group, an immigration law firm launched in 1995 and recognized in U.S. World News & Report’s “Best Law Firms in America.” He is the co-author of the acclaimed book, Immigrant, Inc. —Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Richard’s poignant commentary has been sought out by many national media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Forbes, FOX News (The O’Reilly Factor), National Public Radio, Inc., National Lawyers Weekly, PC World, Computerworld, CIO, TechCrunch, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and InformationWeek.

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