DACA Is Now 10 Years Old. What Does the Future Hold?
June 13, 2022

June 15 marks 10 years since President Barack Obama announced an executive memorandum creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an initiative that has provided some protection and work authorization for over 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Although DACA has not removed all the barriers confronting Dreamers—named after the DREAM Act, legislation first introduced in 2001—it has made it easier for recipients to access postsecondary education and unlock the potential such an education affords. Dreamers can now qualify for many work-study programs, take on high-quality jobs, and otherwise find the means to pay for their education. They can drive to work and school, and apply for internships. When they graduate, they can qualify for occupational licenses and obtain work authorizations that allow them to work in skilled jobs across industries.

However, these students remain ineligible for Title IV federal student aid, such as Pell Grants. And given the court cases and upheavals surrounding the DACA program, these students and others live under a cloud of uncertainty. They don’t know, for instance, whether after earning a degree they will be able to receive a work authorization.  

The program has survived years of legal wrangling under the Obama, Trump, and now Biden administrations, culminating in a 2021 decision by a federal district court in Texas that ruled DACA had been established outside of executive authority rather than through the normal rulemaking process. That decision mandated a halt to processing new DACA applications. However, the program remains in effect for people who have approved DACA status.

In an interview this week with NPR, Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security when DACA was first unveiled, said she believes the program has endured “because it's needed.”

“These are young people. They’re American in every way,” she said “They know America as home but for the fact that they are undocumented. And while we wait for Congress to act, this was a temporary solution. There's no pathway to citizenship in DACA. Only Congress can do that.”

While we wait for Congress to act, the promise of DACA will be available to fewer and fewer individuals in the coming years. A new study by FWD.us estimates that “only a quarter of this year’s undocumented high school graduates would be eligible for relief through DACA under current rules.” The class of 2022 is one of the first in which the overwhelming majority of undocumented graduates entered the United States after June 15, 2007, the arrival date required for DACA eligibility.

Biden Administration Working on New Rules

The Biden administration is currently rewriting the rules implementing DACA to “protect and fortify” it from further legal challenges. ACE and 45 other higher education associations sent comments to the Department of Homeland Security on the draft rules in November—the final regulations are expected this summer.

The proposed rules in most ways adhere to the current structure of DACA. It would provide a definition of deferred action as “a temporary forbearance from removal” from the United States that “does not confer any right or entitlement to remain in or to re-enter the U.S.” The criteria would be the same as what was previously used for the program. The applicant must have come to the United States under the age of 16; have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the time the request is filed; have graduated, be currently enrolled in school, or be an honorably discharged veteran; not have been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors; and been born on or after June 16, 1981, and be at least 15 years of age at the time of filing the request. 

In their comments, the groups expressed concern that these requirements are too narrow and will omit many current Dreamers, advising that the Biden administration should not feel constrained by the original parameters established in 2012.  

Senate Judiciary Committee to Look at Immigration Issues Tomorrow

It’s critical to remember that while the rulemaking process is important, Congress still needs to act to provide permanent protections for DACA holders and Dreamers. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety will hear testimony tomorrow on “Strengthening our Workforce and Economy through Higher Education and Immigration,” which includes DACA and Dreamers.

“Finding ways to provide Dreamers with permanent protections, such as the DREAM Act or similar legislation, is an issue with wide bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, in the business community, and among the general public,” ACE and five other groups wrote in testimony submitted for the record. “The issue of protecting Dreamers is one that higher education believes should be addressed as soon as possible.”

To contact your lawmakers and ask them to support legislation for Dreamers, see www.rememberthedreamers.org. ​

The Remember the Dreamers campaign is working to focus Congress on ​​finding a legislative solution for Dreamers and DACA recipients. Working together, the higher education community plays a vital role in both advocating for and assisting these young people, many of whom are students on our campuses.