February 2, 2015
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that it will start accepting applications under the expanded DACA program beginning February 18, 2015. Eligible applicants should prepare to submit their applications as soon on or after the filing period commences to avoid anticipated lengthier processing periods as the program continues.
Pres. Obama’s announcement of executive action on November 20, 2014, includes an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was implemented in 2012. To date, approximately 580,000 individuals have already been granted DACA benefits. It is estimated that approximately 290,000 individuals will benefit from the expansion of the program, raising the number of eligible individuals to approximately 1.5 million.
To qualify for an initial grant of DACA under the expanded program, all of the following requirements must be fulfilled: 1) You must have arrived in the US before the age of 16; 2) You must have continuously resided in the US from before January 1, 2010, to the time of filing the DACA application; 3) You must have been physically present in the US on November 20, 2014; 4) You must have been out of status on November 20, 2014, either because you entered the US without inspection, or because your lawful status has lapsed; 5) On the date you file your application, you must either be in school, have graduated from a US high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or were honorably discharged from the US Coast Guard or Armed Forces; 6) You have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and 7) If you have no final order of removal or pending removal case, be at least 15 years old.
When the program was originally implemented in 2012, it required applicants to be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, to qualify. Realizing that this age restriction arbitrarily disqualified too many very deserving individuals, the program was expanded so that any individual could qualify so long as they had entered the US before the age of 16. The expanded program also changed the continuous residency requirement date from June 15, 2007, to January 1, 2010.
The following are some common questions related to the DACA program.
Can I file a DACA application if I am in removal proceedings?
Yes. If you are in removal proceedings, you can file a DACA application with DHS. If you are currently detained, then you need to request deferred action from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. You may also apply for DACA if you have a removal order, an administrative closure, or voluntary departure order.
What documents can I use to prove continuous residency and physical presence?
School transcripts, tax returns, payroll records, bank accounts, lease agreements, and other contracts or receipts that show you were in the US at the requisite times are helpful. Bank accounts should show activity, and tax returns should illustrate that you worked throughout the year. This is not a complete list. Any documents that show you were in the US would be helpful.
What crimes are considered serious misdemeanors?
A serious misdemeanor includes two types of misdemeanors. First, a conviction for one of the following crimes, regardless of the sentence, is considered a serious misdemeanor: burglary; domestic violence; sexual abuse or exploitation; unlawful possession or use of a firearm; driving under the influence (DUI); or drug distribution or trafficking. Second, any other misdemeanor for which you were sentenced to more than 90 days imprisonment is considered a serious misdemeanor.
If I did not graduate from high school, what can I do?
If you did not graduate high school, you can enroll in school now to qualify for DACA. The types of programs that the DHS will accept for current enrollment are as follows: 1) Public or private elementary, junior high or high schools; 2) Vocational or career training programs; 3) Certain English as a Second Language courses; and 4) Educational programs assisting individuals with obtaining a high school diploma or GED.
If my application for DACA is approved, will I be able to travel outside of the US?
Individuals granted DACA may obtain an advance parole travel document if they are able to demonstrate that there is a legitimate humanitarian, educational or employment purpose necessitating travel. There may be consequences to traveling outside the US, however, so individuals should seek legal advise before traveling.
How long is the grant of deferred action valid?
The expansion of DACA includes extending the validity period from 2 years to 3 years. Individuals must note that DACA is only an executive policy, and therefore can be changed at any point in the future. Applicants should therefore proceed with applying as soon they are eligible.The DACA program is certainly a bright light in what has been such a struggle for so many. As indicated, the implementation of the expanded program will commence on February 18, 2015. Individuals who qualify under the original program, however, may continue to apply now. It is vital that individuals take advantage of the golden opportunities that DACA provides and not allow fear to prevent them from realizing their full potential and opportunities.
For further information, please schedule an appointment with an attorney at Aquino & Loew, Immigration Law Specialists.