DHS issues DACA final rule but program remains in legal jeopardy

On August 24, the Biden administration finalized a rule that preserves and fortifies the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy for more than 600,000 so-called “Dreamers” to defer removal of certain noncitizens who years earlier came to the U.S. as children.  The ruling goes into effect on October 31, 2022. The rule will make it easier for current enrollees to renew their immigration status.

Since its inception in 2012, DACA has allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to live, work, and go to school in the U.S. legally without fear of deportation. Criteria grants deferred action on a case-by-case basis for individuals who:

  1. Came to the U.S. under the age of 16 before June 15, 2007;
  2. Continuously resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years preceding June 15, 2012;
  3. Are in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Coast Guard or Armed Forces;
  4. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor offenses or otherwise do not pose a threat to national security or public safety; and
  5. Were not above the age of 30 on June 15, 2012.

The recent rule by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) codifies the 2012 program and rescinds the memorandum that has governed the program.

Even with the ruling, DACA remains in legal jeopardy and only applies to current grantees. A U.S. District Court Judge in Texas, who closed DACA to first time applicants in 2021, ruled that the policy itself violates federal immigration law, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to issue an opinion on DACA’s legality alter this year. The conservative-leaning court is expected to side with the ruling. The Biden administration could appeal such a ruling to the Supreme Court.

DHS is prohibited from granting initial DACA request to employment authorizations and may only grant DACA renewal requests. The earlier rule had proposed a controversial separate process for employment authorization which advocates feared would create hardship for DACA enrollees.President Biden urged lawmakers to legalize Dreamers, calling them “part of the fabric of this nation.”

On the 10th anniversary of DACA in June, Association of American Universities (AAU) President Barbara Snyder praised DACA and advocated for a permanent legislative solution. She said, “America’s scientific enterprise and the economic and national security benefits that flow from it has always depended on talent from all over the world; a failure to secure the future of our own home-grown talent risks not only their livelihoods, but that of our nation…These young people are Americans in every way but immigration status, and they deserve the certainty that will allow them to continue their lives without the constant threat of detention or deportation.”

Higher education associations continue to call for a path to citizenship for current enrollees and undocumented immigrants.