Update - as of 09/05/2017, President Trump has killed DACA. Please click here for our most updated information.
Immigration. There is nothing that divides this country more. And when the DREAM Act came on the scene, it furthered the gap in opinions. The DREAM Act (a.k.a. Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minor) is legislation that currently gives undocumented children who grew up in the United States a chance to contribute and remain in the U.S. by serving in the armed forces or pursuing a higher education. Since its introduction, it's been met with controversy and confusion. Many believe that the DREAM Act is great for the country and economy, while others criticize it as a blanket amnesty. There is much to be debated about this legislation, and to learn more, Modern Brown Girl spoke with Maria Gloria Najera, an immigration attorney of over 28 years who specializes in immigration law. If you're a 'dreamer' or you know someone who is, here are 5 things you should know:
1. The DREAM Act is now referred to as DACA (Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
So what is DACA? If you were not born in the United States, or otherwise do not have U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status, and are here without lawful status, you are subject to being arrested and removed. You can be returned to your country of birth for simply being present in the U.S. without permission - this is a no brainer. However, as of June 15, 2012, the USCIS announced that certain people who came to the U.S. as children (16 years and under) and meet several guidelines may request DACA for 2 years, subject to renewal. In other words, once you obtain your DACA status you will need to renew it every two years. At this point, DACA only provides you with protection from being removed from this country, with the additional benefit of being able to legally work. If you are here without legal status you cannot legally work in this country.
2. In 2014 a federal court order put a stop to President Obama's plans to expand DACA.
However, the original DACA provisions are still in effect and you can still apply for DACA if you qualify.
3. Who qualifies?
The following is a partial list of qualifications: 1) you were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012; 2) you came into the U.S. before your 16th birthday; 3) you are currently in school, have graduated from high school, or are getting a G.E.D.; 4) most importantly, you have not been convicted of a felony or any other disqualifying illegal act. For additional qualifications, click here.
4. Despite what some may think, DACA does not provide lawful status.
You can still be removed from the U.S. if you lose your DACA status. You also cannot travel outside of the U.S. DACA status only means that for the time being, you will not be placed in removal proceedings and you will be allowed to work legally. Currently, DACA is not a path to citizenship, although many hope that at some point it will be. Your protection under DACA is only good for two years, but you can renew your application every two years. As to how often you can do this, it's still unclear and/or undecided, which is why DACA is met with criticism.
5. Everyone who applies for DACA, whether for the 1st time or for a renewal, has to have a fingerprint check.
That means, no breaking the law! The law is pretty strict. No one cares if you're a good person and you made a stupid mistake. Any type of offense can jeopardize your status and you can be returned to your country of birth if you chose to break the law.
By no means is DACA perfect. There are many holes that need to be filled. Remember to always arm yourself with information and educate yourself on all the changes as the legislation progresses. If you still want to learn more or you need assistance with the application process, contact an experienced immigration attorney and/or go to the USCIS website.
Images courtesy of: WikiCommons Joe Frazier