Category Archives: DACA Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Want to Know Who’s Actually Getting DACA Approval?

Graduation-5502U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) just published its first-ever report summarizing the “Characteristics of Individuals Requesting and Approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).”

The report supplies demographic information about people who requested DACA between August 2012 to September 2013 and were approved by January 2014, in these categories:

  •  age range
  • gender
  • country of birth
  • marital status
  • state of residence

Citizens of Mexico are, to no one’s surprise, the largest pool of applicants by far, followed by El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. But plenty of other countries’ citizens applied, as well. Even the bottom four countries on the list Poland,  Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Guyana, had over 1,000 applicants each.

As for age, the majority are 19 and under, followed closely by the 20 to 24 age group. This isn’t too surprising either, given the age-related requirements for DACA (see Nolo’s article on, “Who Qualifies for Deferred Action as an Immigrant Student or Graduate (DACA).”) There was no clear winner between number of male and female applicants and DACA recipients.

And you get no points for guessing which state most applicants applied from: California, of course! Texas a close second.

 

Spreading the Word: California DACA Recipients Eligible for Medi-Cal

stethoscopeThe original report on this looked rather academic: In February of 2014, the UC Berkeley Labor Center issued its “REALIZING THE DREAM FOR CALIFORNIANS ELIGIBLE FOR DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS (DACA): DEMOGRAPHICS AND HEALTH COVERAGE.”

The implications, however, are huge for undocumented Californians with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status. If their incomes are below $15,850, they may qualify for the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal. (Most other U.S. states do NOT offer similar health coverage to DACA recipients.)

Unfortunately, very few DACA recipients know about, or have been willing to actually take the next step and sign up for this program. The report estimated that up to 125,000 immigrants might be thus eligible.

And just to be clear, this eligibility isn’t merely theoretical. People are signing up for Medi-Cal based on their DACA status. For example, the L.A. Times described “Mayra Yoana Jaimes Pena, 25, [who] was granted DACA-status last year, and signed up for Medi-Cal this month.” Organizations such as OneLA are busy trying to spread the word.

Of course, even further under the radar are the many people who haven’t signed up for DACA, yet are eligible. It’s not too late! For information on eligibility and the application process, see the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)” page of Nolo’s website.

How Will You Know When USCIS Declares a Snow Day?

whitehousesnowWhen local schools are closed due to snow, you will usually hear it announced it on local radio and TV stations (and you can hear the cheers from around the neighborhood).

But how do you find out whether the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at which you are scheduled to attend an interview or provide your biometrics has been closed due to bad (sometimes called “inclement”) weather? Sometimes the media may mention the closure of federal buildings, but it’s best not to count on this as your sole source of information.

If you have a lawyer, and he or she is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA), your lawyer will likely receive an email with any notifications of USCIS office closings.

If you don’t have a lawyer working on your immigration case, however, you may need to do a little research on your own if the weather is looking bad. USCIS does not make any attempt to reach out to people individually — trying to call or even email the thousands of people who are scheduled for appointments on a given day would probably take well into that night!

USCIS will reschedule non-INFOPASS appointments due to its own closure automatically, but that’s done by letter, and could take weeks. (If you made an INFOPASS appointment to visit a USCIS office, however, you’ll need to go online and reschedule that one yourself.)

The most reliable source of such information is on the “Field Office Closings” page of the USCIS website. On most days, it will simply say (in the top paragraph under the date) “All offices are open on schedule today.” On other days, however, this page will state which of USCIS’s offices nationwide are closed. According to a USCIS spokesperson whom I contacted, they also make an effort to advise people via social media, including the USCIS Facebook page and Twitter.

If in doubt, you could also try calling the National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283.

If you are still in doubt, do your best to make it to your appointment. Failure to do so could result in weeks of delay at best, and possible denial of your application for immigration benefits.

California Lawmakers Take Practical Approach to Treatment of Undocumented Immigrants

sanjoseAn estimated two-million plus undocumented immigrants live, work, study, and otherwise make their home in California.

So perhaps it’s fitting that the California legislature recently passed a number of bills (subsequently signed by Governor Jerry Brown) that seem designed to make sure that, as long as they’re here, the undocumented are not treated in ways that are either grossly unfair or lead to unfortunate or dangerous unintended consequences.

Here’s a brief summary of the new laws (click the links for details):

  • AB 4, which forbids law enforcement officials from detaining noncitizens beyond their release date on the basis of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold, unless the person has actually been convicted of one of various crimes or meets certain specified conditions. (This seems designed to put a stop to the expense and absurdity of local law enforcement agencies serving as detention units for the federal government by holding undocumented immigrants even if the criminal charges against them were dismissed or were minor in nature.)
  • AB 35, which says that no one can charge fees for serving people applying for the immigration program known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (or DACA) unless they are either immigration consultants, attorneys, notaries public, or organizations that have received accreditation from the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A.); and even those who have received such accreditation cannot engage in price gouging.
  • AB 60, which makes undocumented California residents eligible for a drivers’ license upon providing satisfactory proof of identity and state residency. The license will contain a notation stating that it “does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits,” and will contain the initials “DP” (Drivers Privilege) instead of “DL” (Drivers’ License).
  • AB 524, which specifies that threatening to report the immigration status or suspected immigration status of an person or family may be considered an inducement of fear sufficient to constitute extortion, and thus punishable under the California Penal Code.
  • AB 1024, which allows undocumented persons to be admitted to the California State Bar Association as attorneys, and therefore to practice law in this state.
  • AB 1159, which attempts to crack down on the practice of immigration law without a license, by imposing financial penalties on people who pose as attorneys, in particular by calling themselves “notarios” or other terms which have a more elevated meaning in other countries. The law specifies that the proceeds shall be used to help people damaged by such con artists, as well as to provide free legal advice concerning federal immigration reform.
  • SB 141, which requires community colleges and universities within the California state system to charge in-state, resident tuition to U.S. citizens who live in a foreign country because their parent or guardian was deported or voluntarily departed from the U. S., so long as they will be entering in their first year as matriculated students, can demonstrate financial need, lived in California immediately before moving abroad, attended a secondary school in California for at least three years, and intend to establish residency in California.
  • SB 150, which authorizes community college districts to charge only in-state, resident tuition to certain special part-time students, namely high schoolers who would benefit from advanced scholastic or vocational work, if they are non-citizens in financial need, or students from other states who had to move due to Hurricane Katrina.
  • SB 666, which creates criminal and civil penalties for attorneys and businesses that retaliate against employees and others on the basis of citizenship and immigration status or who report or threaten to report the suspected immigration status of a witness or party to a lawsuit because the person exercises a right related to employment.

In related news, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors recently passed an ordinance prohibiting law enforcement officials from holding for deportation noncitizens who have not been convicted of felonies or deemed public safety risks. (It’s called the “Due Process Ordinance for All on Civil Immigration Detainers.”) Mayor Lee is expected to sign it.

One Year Later, Only 1% of DACA Applications Denied!

Themis 0010The Brookings Institute has assembled some interesting data depicting how the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has gone, a little more than one year after its inception.

Among the most interesting results is the low denial rate — running at a mere 1% of the cases that were accepted for processing. (Around 3.5% of applicants were rejected at the outset, for failing to submit a complete application.) Most people who manage to submit a complete application are approved — 72% so far. Those numbers are surprising for a program that many feared would serve as a ruse for immigration enforcement activities and lead to mass removal of undocumented immigrants from the United States.

They’re also somewhat unexpected given that this is no easy program to apply for. Applicants must, in order to succeed in obtaining this limited-term protection from deportation, provide a pile of paperwork to show that they meet all the eligibility criteria. They must include proof of identity, age, entry date in the U.S., academic record, presence in the U.S on June 15, 2012, and continuous physical presence in the United States since entering. (For details, see Nolo’s article, “Deferred Action for Young Immigrants (DACA): Application Process.”)

But you may notice that 72% and 1% does not add up to 100%. There are a number of cases that haven’t yet been processed, to the tune of 24.5% that are still “under review.” What’s up with that?

It’s impossible to know for sure, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rarely moves quickly when it denies immigration benefits, and it’s entirely likely that it has requested that many of these applicants provide more evidence, given them time in which to respond, and is perhaps still considering whether it can make decisions in these cases. USCIS is also famous for getting backlogged when its overwhelmed by a large number of applications, and both DACA applicants and attorneys have complained of cases getting “stuck” in the system.

So, let’s just say these positive percentages could change a bit. Nevertheless, now is a good time to remind people that it’s still not too late to apply for DACA, as described in, “Have I missed the DACA deadline, or can I still apply?

Happy Anniversary, DACA!

obamaThe program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or “DACA” was first announced by President Obama on June 15, 2012, just over a year ago. It gave undocumented young immigrants a means of avoiding deportation and obtaining work permits. 

Met at first with skepticism — “Will it be just a way to identify and deport undocumented people?” “Will it disappear in a few months if Obama is not reelected?” “Will it become irrelevant if Congress passes an immigration reform bill?” — DACA has gone on to provide some measure of stability, not to mention work permits, for over 520,000 young people. (See the USCIS “Data on Individual Applications and Petitions” page for monthly updates.) A relatively few 19,000 applications were rejected.

Although the rate of applications has reduced markedly since the program was first announced, it is still possible to apply! See the DACA-related articles on Nolo’s website for more information. And as we’ve seen, Congress is still in a tug-of-war over comprehensive immigration reform.

DACA Applicants Getting Creative With Proving Presence in the U.S.

favoritesIt’s not always easy to prove your location for a particular period of time, much less where you were on a particular day. But those are exactly the challenges faced by young people applying for a work permit and temporary permission to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

To be DACA-eligible, they need to prove two types of presence in the United States:

  • continuous residence since June 15, 2007 up to one’s DACA application date (excluding brief, casual, and innocent departures), and
  • physical presence in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and also at the time of applying for deferred action.

The standard advice from lawyers like me is to come up with things like school, employment, and dental records. But trust the younger, Internet savvy applicants to come up with more creative forms of evidence, such as:

  • Facebook check-ins
  • Tweets
  • Traffic and speeding tickets
  • Netflix records, and
  • Restaurant receipts.

The good news is, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) seems to be just fine with considering these unusual forms of proof. It’s all detailed in this article from ABC News: “Unusual DACA Documentation Includes Speeding Tickets, Netflix, and Facebook.”

For more information on DACA eligibility and application requirements, see the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)” section of Nolo’s website.

DACA Approvals Running at 96%

Although the number of young people applying for a work permit and temporary lawful status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has fallen in recent weeks, one thing hasn’t changed: the number of cases being approved remains (as it has been for several months) around 96%. It’s almost uncanny. You can check out U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS’s) latest figures here.

And for more information on the DACA program, check out Nolo’s series of articles.

DACA Deferred Action Applications Far Fewer Than Expected

The U.S. government predicted that about 1.04 million people would apply for DACA deferred action (for undocumented foreign-born persons who arrived in the U.S. as children) in the first year of the program, according to a Huffington Post report. Thus far, only about 80,000 people have applied, according to a story by immigration blogger Matthew Kolken. What’s more, the intial flood of applications has already turned into a trickle.

What’s going on? It may be that concerns over the risks of applying or the outcome of the election are at work.

For analysis of those topics, see the following articles on Nolo’s website:

Another important step, if you’re considering applying for DACA, would be to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer. The good thing about having waited this long is that lawyers are learning more about the application process every day, and are in ongoing communication with the immigration authorities about how the program is being implemented and how the eligibility rules are being interpreted.

Should the Media Use the Term “Illegal Alien?”

No less a news source than The New York Times has entered into the public debate about how best to describe foreign-born people living in the U.S. without permission. (See “Is ‘Illegal Immigrant’ the Right Description?,” by Margaret Sullivan.)

At last count, close to 300 people had entered comments on this article, representing every opinion from “Illegal alien is short, sweet and concise” and “A criminal is a criminal” to “Bigots and xenophobes happily use the term in their efforts to disparage, dehumanize, and condemn” and “Being inside the US without proper documentation is not an illegal act. Even less, the person that is doing it.”

I’ll put my two cents worth of legal insights on this matter here — and try to steer clear of thoughts on overall U.S. immigration policy.

1) Being in the U.S. without permission, whether due to an illegal entry or having overstayed a visa, is not a crime. It’s a civil violation. That may sound like a distinction without a difference, but you have only to look at the comments themselves to see how many people make a quick leap from “illegal” to “criminal.” A friend of mine who taught grade school once told me that some of her students expressed the opinion that border crossers should be shot on sight, because they were criminals. That suggests to me that the word “illegal” is being thrown around too loosely. (For the record, crossing the border without authorization is in fact a federal misdemeanor, under Title 8 Section 1325 of the U.S. Code, but the potential punishment is a fine of between $50 and $250 and/or a maximum of six months in jail — certainly not the death penalty).

2) The starkness of the word “illegal” implies that it’s easy to judge who has a right to be in the United States. It’s not. The complexities of immigration law have given rise to many gray areas. For example, the whole system of applying for asylum as a means of gaining protection from persecution in one’s home country presupposes that the person is already in the United States. But how are you supposed to get to the U.S., particularly if you’re, say, a Guatemalan peasant whose chances of gaining a U.S. entry visa are just about nil? Countless such people have entered the U.S. without permission and applied for asylum, and the U.S. has, where appropriate, granted their requests. Until their applications were accepted for processing, they could only be called “illegal” under the prevailing terminology — and yet, had they been arrested and placed in deportation proceedings, the law would have given them every right to apply for asylum as a defense. I don’t believe that such people are who most of the U.S. public think of when they hear the word “illegal,” but such cases are swept up into this overly broad term.

As another example of the gray area, I spent years of my practice as an immigration lawyer helping prepare applications for family members of U.S. lawful permanent residents who were waiting unlawfully in the U.S. for a visa to become available to them. Annual limits on the number of available family-based green cards mean that if you’re, say, the 22-year old daughter of a green card holder, you’re looking at an eight-year wait before you can legally enter or remain in the United States and join your perfectly legal family there. (The wait is much longer for family members from Mexico.) But because of legal bars to reentry that punish people for unlawful status, leaving the U.S. would have actually been the worst thing many such family members could have done — and the immigration authorities, recognizing this conundrum, actually assured immigration lawyers that they would hold off on enforcement activities against such family members. Yet without another word for them, they too are part of this “illegal alien” population.

Here on the Nolo site, we try to use the word “undocumented” whenever possible. It may not be perfect, but at least it recognizes that the person’s status may not be fixed. An “undocumented” person may, for more reasons than the public realizes, someday become “documented” under U.S. law.