The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 28, 2020 1:00 am

DACA administrator offers clarifications

Luz Ostrognai

The Supreme Court handed down its decision on June 18 regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As the only nonprofit agency recognized by the Department of Justice for its legal immigration services in a multi-county area in northern Indiana, we are providing basic facts about the DACA program as a public service.

Q. What is DACA?

A. DACA was created on June 15, 2012 by an executive order from then-President Barack Obama and defers deportation for two years for undocumented individuals who were brought to the United States as children. The program also provides work authorization, which can be renewed every two years. Those covered can work at any job; however, they are not eligible for federal employment.

Q. What is the background on this case?

A. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases challenging the Trump administration's attempt to roll back the Obama-era DACA program. In 2017, the Trump-led Department of Homeland Security announced it would roll back the program that likely violated the constitutional separation of powers as well as federal immigration laws. As justification, it pointed to court rulings invalidating a related program for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The rollback decision drew immediate legal challenges across the country, and three district courts ruled against the administration.

Q. Who is eligible for DACA?

A. A person must be at least 15 years old when applying, but younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012. After applying and paying a $575 fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a person must also have been younger than 16 when entering the United States and living in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007. The program also stipulates that an individual be in school or have graduated or completed high school, or have been honorably discharged from the military.

Q. Are those convicted of a crime eligible?

A. An individual is not eligible if convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors. Also, those convicted of a felony are not eligible to renew their DACA status and are subject to incarceration and deportation.

Q. Which federal agency runs DACA?

A. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers DACA, is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security and performs many of the duties including processing and adjudicating various immigration matters, including applications for work visas, asylum and citizenship.

Q. How many DACA recipients live in the U.S.?

A. According to Citizenship and Immigration Services, there were 689,800 DACA recipients as of Sept. 4, 2017. The total number of people approved for DACA since 2012 is 798,980. Nearly 72,000 initial applications were denied. About 70,000 of the cumulative approvals either did not renew or were rejected when trying to renew. About 40,000 became lawful permanent residents.

Q. Does DACA give recipients legal status in the U.S.?

A. DACA does not provide a path to citizenship, and even though recipients have deportation deferred, they still do not have permanent status in the United States. However, about 40,000 former DACA recipients did go on to get their green cards, becoming legal permanent residents. They did so by using a provision called Advance Parole, from which DACA recipients could get permission to travel abroad for humanitarian, educational and employment purposes. As a result, when they returned, they were entering the U.S. legally, which in turn enabled them to apply for their green card. Typically, with unlawful status, an immigrant would have to return to his or her home country and apply for a green card there.

Q. Did the Trump administration end DACA?

A. The Trump administration did not end the 2012 DACA program. Instead, it said that it would no longer accept new DACA applications, and renewals would only be processed for those whose DACA status expired by March 5, 2018. At that point, an average of 915 DACA authorizations would be terminated per day until the final DACA authorizations expired in March 2020. The administration also is not approving any new Advance Parole requests.

Q. Do DACA recipients receive free college tuition?

A. Many states (including Indiana) do not allow undocumented students to access in-state tuition or state financial aid benefits. Undocumented students are also not eligible for federal financial aid, including Pell Grants, which makes it difficult for them to finance their education. With the Social Security number they receive as part of DACA, students can fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and receive their Expected Family Contribution number.

Q. Are DACA recipients eligible for Social Security funds?

A. The DACA program allows recipients to participate in Social Security and Medicare, but they generally cannot receive benefits until retirement age. However, DACA recipients are still ineligible for many forms of public assistance.

Q. Do DACA recipients pay taxes?

A. DACA recipients contribute an estimated $1.7 billion a year in state and local taxes. This includes personal income, property, and sales and excise taxes.

Q. What is the role of Catholic Charities in DACA?

A. Because we follow the Gospel imperative to “welcome the stranger,” we provide legal services to immigrants applying for various statuses such as visas, green cards and citizenship through the federal government. We extend the same services to DACA recipients because of their quasi-legal status granted under the presidential executive order. Each person we assist is assessed a fee for our services and must also pay an application fee to Citizenship and Immigration Services. We receive no state or federal compensation for working with immigrants or DACA recipients.

Luz Ostrognai is immigration supervisor at Catholic Charities.

Sign up for our Opinion newsletter

Sent daily