Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Published: October 27, 2022

ACP has long-standing policy supporting the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants protections from deportation for undocumented individuals who were brought to the United States when they were children if they meet certain residency requirements. ACP’s support for DACA is based upon students with DACA status being currently enrolled in medical school or working as physicians and nurses with the experience and background to effectively care for a culturally diverse population. Absent this program, there are medical students and physicians who could potentially be forced to discontinue their studies or their medical practice and may be deported. If they are deported, our country will be denied the benefit and value of their contributions and experience in health-related fields.


The DACA program was established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2012 under an Obama administration policy. This initiative ensured that certain individuals (known as Dreamers) without lawful immigration status who were brought to the United States as children would be granted temporary lawful residency status in this country and would not be deported. Approximately 600,000 people are enrolled in the program. Individuals who stayed in this country through DACA were required to meet certain eligibility requirements and show that they were:

  • Under age 16 when they entered the United States
  • Under age 31 on June 15, 2012
  • Continuous residency in the United States for at least five years before June 15, 2012
  • In the United States when making a request for DACA protection
  • Not convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and not otherwise a threat to national security or public safety.
  • In school, graduated from high school or obtained general education development certificate, or honorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces or Coast Guard.

Federal Activity

The status of the DACA program on the federal level has mainly been in response to legal actions taken by some states and former President Trump to end the DACA program. Below is a timeline of federal actions on DACA.

After President Trump was elected in 2016, he directed the U.S. Attorney General to review the DACA policy and determine if changes were needed to the program. On September 5, 2017, the Attorney General announced that DACA was being rescinded because the administration believed that the “program was unlawful and unconstitutional and could not be successfully defended in court.” DHS announced that any DACA recipient would have until October 5, 2017 to apply for a renewal of protected status. Any Dreamers who failed to apply for a renewal by this date would lose their protected status and would be subject to deportation. 

In 2018, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that the decision to rescind the DACA program was illegal as it was based on a “flawed legal premise that the agency lacked authority to implement DACA.” After the federal court issued this ruling, the DHS announced that it would reopen the process for individuals in the United States under DACA to apply for a renewal of their protected status. The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to render a decision on the constitutionality of the DACA program.

On June 18, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the 2017 DHS rescission of the DACA program. However, that decision did not grant DACA recipients permanent legal status.

On July 16, 2021, in response to a lawsuit filed by Republican-led states in the Southern District of Texas, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that DACA was illegal because it violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The court granted a permanent injunction vacating the original 2012 memorandum which created the DACA initiative. The ruling blocked DHS from approving any new, first-time DACA applications. Individuals currently protected by DACA or those seeking to renew their protections are not immediately impacted by the decision and will continue to retain their protected status.

On October 5, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a decision on DACA declaring it unlawful. However, the court of appeals preserved the partial injunction issued by the district court in July 2021 and returned the case to the district court to consider the new DHS DACA regulation/rule, published on Aug. 30, 2022. The new DHS rule, which is scheduled to take effect on October 31, 2022, is meant to “preserve and fortify” the DACA program.

Congress could also act to pass legislation that would grant permanent legal protection to current DACA beneficiaries, and the U.S. House of Representatives has already passed legislation in the 117th Congress to do that. Republicans and Democrats continue to work to reach an agreement regarding this issue, but no such deal has emerged at this time. In recent years, senators have been unable to reach the consensus needed to pass any significant immigration reform in the Senate.

ACP has urged Congressional leaders to pass legislation that would remove the risk of deportation for Dreamers, such as H.R. 6, the Dream and Promise Act of 2021. This bill would establish a three-step pathway to U.S. citizenship for DACA recipients through college, work, or service in the Armed Forces. 

State Activity

Since implementation of DACA, several states have considered or passed laws to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, state professional licenses, in-state tuition, and health care.

Several states have filed lawsuits for or against DACA. Most notable of the lawsuits filed is Texas vs. United States, which led to the recent court rulings on DACA where Texas and eight other states (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina West Virginia, Kansas, and Mississippi) challenged the legality of the DACA program.