While unauthorized immigration to the United States is illegal by all counts, the Department of Homeland Security understands that some instances of illegal immigration are more dangerous than others. Its current immigration policies, therefore, attempt to sort high-priority cases out from low-priority ones. If you are a student without valid immigration documents, you should be aware of these policies. They might be relevant to your case.


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What is DACA?

On June 15, 2012, the Secretary of Homeland Security issued an official memorandum that announced a process for requesting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While neither a law nor a regulation, DACA does acknowledge that many undocumented students did not knowingly violate the law when they crossed the U.S. border during childhood. It thereby instructs U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials to treat DACA-eligible immigrants who are accepted into the program as low-priority cases for immigration prosecution.

Under DACA, if the initial request was approved, an individual could successfully postpone their immigration hearing or deportation proceedings for two years, subject to renewal. Individuals were permitted to request DACA even if they had already received a final removal (deportation) order. With their deferred action applications, individuals also submitted requests for social security numbers and two-year employment authorization documents (EADs). If you previously received DACA, a social security number, and an EAD, know that your EAD is temporary, but still valid. You can legally work in the United States until the EAD’s expiration.

On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking on behalf of the Trump administration, officially ended DACA. No new applications will be accepted or processed at this time. Individuals who currently hold DACA status and EADs are authorized to remain and work in the United States until their permits expire. If your permits will expire before March 5, 2018, you have until October 5, 2017, to submit a renewal application. Those who submitted initial or renewal applications before September 5, 2017, will have their applications processed normally. If your initial or renewal renewal application is accepted, you will be eligible to remain and work in the United States for an additional two years. Following the completion of those two years, you will lose eligibility to stay in the U.S. unless there is further action from the government.

The DREAM Act was reintroduced to Congress on July 20, 2017. If it is passed into law, it will provide a path to residency for undocumented young people, including those who received DACA. Barring that, Congress has six months (until March 5, 2018) to preserve DACA or come up with an alternative. If Congress fails to act, DACA recipients will begin to lose their protected status this March.

What are the benefits of DACA?

DACA is helpful to many undocumented immigrants, but college students may find it especially appealing. If you are a DACA beneficiary, you may enjoy any of the following benefits:

  • Have an incentive to graduate high school as a way to meet eligibility requirements
  • Postpone your immigration hearing or halt current deportation proceedings
  • Apply to private scholarships that require a social security number
  • Work a paid internship or job during college
  • Potentially receive a special document called an advance parole that grants you permission to leave the United States for a study abroad term
    • As of September 5, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security will no longer process any applications for advance parole, including those that have already been submitted. Any fees associated with the application will be refunded.
  • Pursue a career in your field after graduation
  • Become eligible for state-based financial aid in some areas

Does DACA provide any paths to citizenship?

DACA itself does not provide any paths to citizenship, but it is sometimes confused with the proposed DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act is a proposal for immigration reform that would allow some undocumented immigrants, specifically those who arrived in the United States as children, to apply for citizenship. The DREAM Act was most recently presented to Congress in 2017, but it remains to be seen whether it will become law. Though there is plenty of bipartisan support for the DREAM Act, it is not currently in effect.

At this time, DACA is an option that allows some undocumented young people to postpone their immigration hearings. Unlike the DREAM Act proposal, it is not a route to citizenship or permanent legal residency.

Are there any federal programs under which a DACA beneficiary could possibly become a U.S. citizen?

There is only one program under which an undocumented student could possibly obtain U.S. citizenship. That program is called MAVNI. It stands for Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest. This program is a military program that aims to recruit certain foreign nationals, including some health care professionals, with in-demand language skills. MAVNI incentivizes itself by advertising expedited citizenship to some applicants. Not every applicant is eligible for citizenship, however, so it is recommended that you consult a recruiter and a lawyer before you sign up. Basic eligibility requirements state that an applicant must hold DACA or a current nonimmigrant visa and be fluent in his or her native language. Extensive background checks are also performed.

While you could receive expedited U.S. citizenship under MAVNI (and access to a host of military benefits), joining the military is not something to be considered lightly. Be sure to thoroughly weigh the benefits and downsides before you join.

Note: The MANVI program is not currently accepting new applicants and is frozen pending review.

Are there any negative consequences of applying for DACA?

As of September 5, 2017, DACA is no longer accepting new applications. Should DACA be reinstated in the future, it is unknown whether there will be any negative consequences for those who come forward as undocumented to apply. If you are worried about potential negative consequences or if you have questions about the future of the program, please seek legal counsel from an experienced immigration attorney.

Under the Obama administration, there was no issue, but with a new president in office, it is more difficult to anticipate what is to come for DACA. During his presidential campaign, Trump pledged that he would terminate DACA immediately upon taking office, and some immigration activists worried that the DACA program would be used as a way to identify undocumented immigrants and their family members for removal (deportation) proceedings. In September 2017, the Trump administration stated that the DACA program will begin winding down. It is unclear what the future hold for DACA recipients after March 5, 2018.

Page last updated: 09/2017