On July 15, 2012 President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) started accepting applications on August 15, 2012.
DACA is an immigration program for undocumented youth who were brought to the US before age 16, and who have been raised and educated in communities around the US. It is not a visa status; rather it is a decision that USCIS will not take any negative action (deportation) against an undocumented youth for being physically present in the US in undocumented status. The youth must first present himself/herself to USCIS, on paper only. There is no personal interview. If action is deferred, the youth is now known to USCIS and USCIS may issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card), which in turn, allows the youth to obtain a Social Security Number and a State Driver's License.
Most children are brought to the US by a family member. The parent or other family member may have enered the US legally with a tourist visa and simply overstayed. Others may cross over the border between Mexico and the US through California, Arizona or Texas. Still others may come by small boat through the Caribbean, landing on US soil. Many adults either bring their children with them, or the relatives who remain behind in the country of origin to care for the children, can longer take care of the children, and pay someone to bring the children to the US.
Children come to the US as young as a few days old. However the children enter the US, they would not be here but for the actions of adults in their lives.
Many years ago, a colleague brought a law suit on behalf of undocumented children who were prohibited from attending school in Texas. She argued before the US Supreme Court, stating that if society prevented these undocumented children from attending our schools, we would foster a subculture of unvaccinated, uneducated generations, which puts all of us at risk for the resurgence of diseases heretofore eradicated, and puts our country in peril if we cannot compete on an educated basis in the future world markets. These children are not leaving. They are part of our communities and our future. Many have no memory of their country of birth, only speak English, and know the US as their only home. My colleague argued that these children should not be punished for something that was completely outside their control. She won, and since that time, all children inside the US must be permitted to attend school, and must be vaccinated in order to enroll in school (with limited exceptions).
Undocumented children have attended our elementary, middle and high schools. The American people have invested in these children.
To qualify for DACA, a child must meet the following criteria:
1 Be inside the US
2 Have arrived in the US before the child turned 16 years of age
3 Be under 31 years old on June 15, 2012
4 Have a high school diploma, or GED, or have served in the military, or be currently in school
5 Have been in the US for at least 5 years on June 15, 2012
6 Have no criminal history, or convictions for only minor offenses
There is no application filing fee for DACA, however, there is a separate filing fee for fingerprints and the Employment Authorization Document (EAD card).
Some young people are afraid to apply. They fear that they may be deported/removed from the US if they don't get DACA. However, USCIS has already approved many DACA cases, and this is the first step towards a form of legal recognition in the US. The benefits are far too important not to apply.
When the young person obtains the EAD card, he/she can apply for a Social Security number, which provides a means to pay taxes and contribute into our Social Security system in the US. The EAD card also allows the youth to apply for a valid state driver's license. This protects us all. No one wants to be involved in any motor vehicle incidents with an unlicensed driver.
Undocumented youth are our neighbors, they play with our children, they win awards at our schools, and they help deliver our pizzas. They are a part of our communities, our culture and the future of the United States.
Just imagine the tears of joy when I call a cell phone of one of my clients, and tell the young person that he/she will be receiving an EAD card shortly because USCIS has accepted the case that we presented. This young person may have been living in the US for close to 30 years and may be the first person in the family to be issued an EAD card. I made several such calls right before Thanksgiving. Those were very good calls.