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Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Summary

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was an Obama Administration policy that was established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2012.  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 status in this country and would not be deported.  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 into the United States
  • Under age 31 on June 15, 2012
  • Continuous residents 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. 

After President Trump was elected in 2016, he directed his 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  On September 5, 2017, the Attorney General announced that DACA was being rescinded because the administration believed that the “program was unlawful and unconstitutional and could not be successfully defended in court.”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, 2016 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 rendered its decision to vacate the 2017 U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. However, that decision did not afford DACA recipients permanent legal status.

On January 20, 2021, President Biden issued a memorandum directing the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, to take appropriate action to preserve and fortify DACA, consistent with applicable law.

There is the possibility that Congress will 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 just that.  Republicans and Democrats continue to work to reach an agreement regarding this issue but no such deal has emerged at this time.

ACP has urged Congressional leaders to consider and 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.

ACP’s support for DACA stems from the fact that students with DACA status are currently enrolled in medical school or work as physicians and nurses that have the experience and background to treat a culturally diverse population.  According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in 2016, approximately 70 students with DACA status were enrolled in medical school.  If they are deported, our country will be denied the benefit and value of their contributions and experience in health-related fields. 

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