I was tempted to put this entire title in capital letters, as hysterical as that might look. But for thousands of people in the United States today, the recently announced ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) feels like a true emergency.
And indeed, the decision will eventually mean that huge numbers of undocumented young people, students, and workers—who came forward, were vetted, and applied for a temporary work permit—may (unless Congress acts) see that grant stripped from them. And, thousands of schools and employers will lose the benefit of their work and other contributions.
But in other ways, the current situation is not quite as dire as it sounds—or doesn’t need to be, with the proper actions taken going forward.
So if you are a DACA holder or know someone who is (you might be surprised!), or you are an employer, here are some key things to understand and share:
- No one is being deported right away. This is a phaseout. DACA holders still have a legal basis upon which to remain in the United States. Immigration attorneys and advocates are keeping watch around the country for any official action taken to the contrary. USCIS has not changed its policies regarding sharing DACA applicants’ personal information with ICE for followup enforcement; and will do so only in cases that don’t involve serious crimes or threats to public safety. Despite a few widely reported cases, enforcement actions against DACA holders remain rare.
- People who hold valid DACA work permits can use them up through the day they expire. The new policy specifically says that current recipients will not have their status revoked unless some separate reason arises (such as a criminal conviction). So if, for example, your DACA work permit expires on March 6, 2018, you can work up to and including the entire day of March 6, 2018.
- An important renewal opportunity exists for the next few weeks. Some, but not all current DACA holders can apply to renew their status. That renewal will be good for an entire two years, even as the rest of the program gets phased out. The only people who can renew are those whose DACA grant expires between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 (assuming they meet the other criteria). Unfortunately, people whose DACA grant had already expired before September 5 cannot renew; and no one can apply for a first-time DACA grant going forward.
- The renewal opportunity depends on getting an application into USCIS’s hands by October 5, 2017. Pick a trusted mail or delivery service, because it doesn’t matter when your renewal application is postmarked. It has to be received and “accepted” by USCIS by October 5. There’s some question about what “accepted” means. It certainly doesn’t mean “approved.” But it might mean that if USCIS looks at it and says, “This isn’t complete, we can’t let it in the door,” you will have missed out. (Normal USCIS practice would, however, be to issue a Request for Evidence,” so don’t panic—but do triple check your renewal application and fee before mailing it.)
- Employers cannot ask an employee whether he or she has DACA, nor take action (such as firing or termination) based on knowing that someone currently has DACA. Even well-meaning employers should beware of crossing this line. The employer may simplify notify an employee that he or she will need to present an updated work permit (EAD) on the date of its expiration.
As tense as the situation is, a good deal of help is becoming available to people who currently have DACA, or have had it in the past. Large employers are looking into providing legal help; and some DACA holders may have even become eligible for another status, such as permanent residence.
Also, community organizations are mobilizing to provide free or low-cost help. Start calling around—but do so soon, if you’re looking at renewal.
And as always, beware of scammers who take advantage of a tough situation! Check lawyers’ credentials, and avoid mere “immigration consultants” and “notarios.”