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Mar 11, 2022 | Rommel H. Ojeda and Nicolás Ríos

How DACA Changed in 2021

On January 20 of 2021, just hours after taking office, President Joe Biden announced a memorandum seeking to preserve and fortify the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which had a month before been fully reinstated to its former status.

DACA, which was passed by president Obama through an executive order in 2012, granted temporary protection from deportation to individuals who had arrived to the United States as children. The protection lasted two years, which could be renewed, and individuals could also apply for work permits and obtain a social security number. 

The program had suffered multiple setbacks during the Trump administration, which in 2017 had rescinded the program, and was reinstated for existing DACA recipients (meaning no initial applications) in the summer of 2018. Following multiple court battles, including a Supreme Court decision that sided with DACA, it was not until December of 2020 that DACA started accepting initial applications once again.

Longer DACA Processing Times

The judge’s decision to reinstate DACA was welcomed by eligible immigrants who had been unable to apply for the program in the previous years. It also gave a second opportunity for former recipients whose deferred action had expired for more than a year, and had to resubmit their initial application (I-821D). 

While the processing times for initial applications had always taken between 7 to 10 months, active recipients were experiencing longer than usual processing times for the cases.

Documented asked DACA recipients in Reddit if they had experienced delays with their applications. We received 95 responses, from initial and renewal applications, where 10% of respondents said they either had lost their job, or could possibly lose their employment.

(Anonymous DACA recipients’s comments from the survey)

Also Read: Legal Help for Immigrants in New York State

Jen, a DACA recipient who had lost her job at a pet stylist salon, told Documented last July the three renewals she had sent previously had taken two months to be processed. This time, the 28-year-old had been waiting for five months since she sent it in February. Her employment authorization expired in June, and she was let go by her employer. “It’s nerve wracking, I get really bad breakdowns sometimes,” she said, holding back tears. She was using her savings to get by while her application was processed. 

Other recipients across the country also expressed similar situations. Documented reviewed USCIS receipts and interviewed five other Dreamers who had lost their jobs, or were placed on leave of absence. Maria Jose, 35, a referral coordinator in Miami whose driver’s license expired, had to rely on her family to drive to different locations due to fear of getting pulled over. 

Also Read: Growing USCIS Backlogs Could Be Worsened by Spending Cuts

A USCIS spokesperson told Documented that I-821D applications, despite the pandemic, are being processed at faster times with an average of 48 days. 

“Also note that in DACA cases, the 90-day period for reviewing a Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) based on an approved, concurrently filed, Form I-821D (Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) begins if and when USCIS decides to defer action in a case. As you can see from the previously provided data, the median processing time for a Form I-765 based on an approved, concurrently filed, I-821D is also less than 2 months (1.6 months ),” the spokesperson wrote.

July 2021: Initial DACA Applications Halted

On July 16th, 2021 a federal judge in Texas ruled against the DACA program, immediately pausing the processing of new applications that had not been approved by the date of the decision. However, renewals for active DACA beneficiaries were still being accepted.

Would-be-recipients who had submitted their applications in the months prior to the ruling and advocates denounced the judge’s decision. More than 80,000 pending initial applications were stopped, and USCIS also announced that while they will be still accepting applications, no initial requests would be processed until further notice.

Congress Has to Act

The White House released a testament on July 17th noting that the Department of Justice (DOJ) intended to appeal the decision in order to preserve and fortify DACA. However, it also stated that ultimately Congress had the power to pass a permanent solution for the program. 

It was not until September 27th that the Depart of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), that would fortify and preserve the DACA policy. A 60 day public comment window was open for legal and policy suggestions, as well as alternative approaches. DHS would then review all properly submitted comments before issuing a final rule, which has yet to happen. 

Representatives signaled a possible path to citizenship for DACA recipients, and other groups, via the budget reconciliation process during the fall. But it failed to gain the support of key moderate senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). 

The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 (H.R.6) passed the house in March of 2021, which includes a path to citizenship for DACA recipients but it was not introduced in the Senate for a vote. 

By the end of the year, the decision of the Texas judge was still in place and initial applications were still not being processed.

Also Read: Guide on how ActionNYC works, a program that provides free legal services in New York City

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