The Path Forward to Citizenship for DACA Recipients

Murali Bashyam

Congressional Democrats recently introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which creates a roadmap to citizenship for several different types of immigrants present in the U.S. with no legal immigration status. Among the people who would qualify for green cards and citizenship are participants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, or the “Dreamers.”

Under the Act, Dreamers who meet specific requirements would be immediately eligible for green cards. After three years of holding green cards, these immigrants could apply for citizenship if they pass additional background checks and demonstrate English language and U.S. civics knowledge. Under the Act, agricultural workers and individuals granted TPS also would be immediately eligible for green cards.

Current Status of DACA

Despite the Trump administration’s continuous efforts throughout the past four years to dismantle the DACA program, various court decisions, including one issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, have left DACA intact. On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued a memorandum to the Secretary of Homeland Security to preserve DACA in compliance with current law, including a recent U.S. District Court decision. That court decision requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to:

• Accept first-time DACA applicants under the terms of the program that were in effect before September 5, 2017
• Accept renewal applications for DACA under the terms of the program that were in effect before September 5, 2017
• Accept applications for advance parole documents, which permits DACA applicants to travel outside the U.S. and still legally reenter the U.S.
• Extend one-year DACA status grants to two years
• Extend one-year employment authorization documents (EADs) to two years

DACA Qualifications

To qualify for the DACA program, first-time applicants must be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012, and arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthdays. They must have continuously lived in the U.S. from June 15, 2007, to the present and were physically present in the U.S. as of June 15, 2012. You must be at least 15 years old to apply for DACA unless you are in removal proceedings or have a final removal order or voluntary departure date.
Applicants also must have had no legal immigration status on June 15, 2012. They must be either in school, completed high school or a GED, or honorably discharged from the military. Finally, DACA recipients must not have been convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors that occurred on separate dates and arose out of separate actions, omissions, or misconduct. Applicants also must otherwise pose no threat to national security or public safety.

Applying for DACA

The filing fee to apply for DACA is currently $495. USCIS typically grants fee exemptions only in exceptional circumstances, such as documented homelessness or a lack of parental support, assets, and income. A fee also is required to apply for EADs, which is a base fee of $410. DACA applicants also may pay a biometrics services fee of $85. These fees cannot be waived.

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