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4 things you should know about changes to DACA

On Dec. 5, 2020, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. government must fully restore DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program that protects from deportation more than 600,000 immigrants who came to the United States as children. 

Since 2017, the Trump administration has worked to dismantle DACA, even issuing a memorandum this summer to undermine a Supreme Court decision that upheld the program. The most recent court decision in December reverses that memo, ordering the federal government to reopen DACA to new applicants and restore full benefits to current recipients. 

While the court order is a victory for DACA recipients, their families, and allies, the program is still being challenged in the courts. Ultimately, only legislation—not litigation—will provide permanent protections for DACA recipients. That’s why we must continue to call on Congress to create a roadmap to citizenship for DACA recipients and all immigrants in the U.S.

Tell your senators: Protect DACA recipients and call for humane immigration policies that respect the rights and dignity of all people

Here’s what you need to know about what’s happening with DACA:

1. Although the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration’s termination of DACA was unlawful, the administration continued its efforts to end the program. 

DACA was created in 2012 through an executive action by President Obama, following years of organizing by undocumented immigrant youth. But in 2017, the Trump administration announced it would terminate the program, jeopardizing the futures of hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their families.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA was “arbitrary and capricious”—and a violation of federal law. The ruling preserved DACA status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants, allowing them to continue to live and work in the U.S. without being targeted for detention or deportation. People who have or previously had DACA can continue to apply to renew their DACA status and remain eligible for related benefits.

However, the court’s decision was narrow. The court did not address whether the creation of DACA was lawful. That left the door open for the Trump administration to attempt to terminate DACA again through other legal rationale. 

And instead of implementing the Supreme Court decision, the Trump administration issued a memo in July 2020 that worked to dismantle the program—by refusing to accept new applications and limiting renewal periods for existing recipients, among other things. 

2. On Dec. 5, 2020, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government to fully restore DACA.

The most recent court decision ordered the Trump administration to fully restore the DACA program, reversing the memo the Trump administration had issued in July 2020. 

This means the government must:

  • Reopen the DACA program to first-time applicants. That could allow an estimated 300,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to enroll in the program.  
  • Return the renewal period for current DACA recipients to two years. (In its July memo, the Trump administration had reduced the period to one year). 
  • Allow DACA recipients to apply to travel outside of the U.S. for educational, employment, or humanitarian reasons. (In its July memo, the Trump administration revoked this benefit, known as “advance parole,” except in “exceptional circumstances). 

3. The struggle to save DACA isn’t over. 

The Trump administration could still seek to appeal the most recent court decision. While the Department of Homeland Security—which oversees U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) —has reinstated the program effective Dec. 7, it announced in a public notice that it “may seek relief from the order.”

DACA continues to be challenged in the courts. On Dec 22, a U.S. district judge in Texas will hear arguments against the lawfulness of DACA brought by attorney generals of seven states. The case is likely to be ruled on between Dec. 22 and Jan. 20. 

4. Ultimately, only legislation–not litigation–can provide a permanent solution for DACA recipients and their families.

For years, hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients and their families have faced uncertainty as the program has continually come under attack. While President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to protect DACA, recipients will continue to be vulnerable to political and legal attacks until we have a legislative solution that provides permanent protection—and creates a roadmap to citizenship for all immigrants.

DACA recipients, undocumented youth, and allies have worked tirelessly to counter the Trump’s administration’s termination of DACA in 2017. It’s long past time that we pass legislation that keeps families and communities together.

In June 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Dream and Promise Act, a bill that would offer a roadmap to citizenship for DACA recipients and others eligible for DACA. The Senate is now considering similar legislation and must follow suit.

Take action today! Tell your senators: Provide permanent protections for DACA recipients and all immigrants—and call for humane immigration policies that respect the rights and dignity of all people.

About the Author

Peniel Ibe is the policy engagement coordinator at AFSC’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy. She leads AFSC’s advocacy efforts to coordinate grassroots engagement strategies to impact policy change. She is an immigrant from Nigeria who recently relocated to the United States and is advocating for the rights of others like her.

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