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What to Know About Applying for DACA From People Who Have Done It

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Activists hold a banner in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on June 18, 2020. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected President Trump's move to rescind the DACA program that offers protections to 700,000 undocumented migrants brought to the U.S. as children.  (Nicholas Kam/Getty Images)

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Updated March 13, 2021

Despite national efforts for comprehensive immigration reform and increasing hope of a path to citizenship for undocumented Americans in the U.S., advocates still recommend those who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to apply.

Some organizations, such as ImmigrationHelp.org, are providing services free of cost.

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At the beginning of December, a federal judge reversed the Trump administration's rules placing further limits on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

This Obama-era program is an executive branch memorandum passed in 2012 in an effort to protect youth who came to the U.S. as children. DACA helps undocumented people in two main ways — granting both protection from deportation and a permit to work.

So what does the new judicial decision mean? It means those eligible can now apply or renew their application for DACA for the first time since 2017.

"The program exists because of people's sacrifice and hard work and advocacy efforts," said Prerna Lal, who did organizing work to get it passed.  "It's amazing that it has withstood four years of a very anti-immigrant administration ... And I want people to be able to benefit from this."

DACA protects about 640,000 undocumented young immigrants. An estimated 300,000 young people are eligible for the program and, as of July, there were estimated to be over 55,000 who have aged into eligibility over the last three years.

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Yoseline Mendez, 26, and her husband Manolo De León, 27, applied for and received DACA in 2012 when the program began — and they have renewed it every two years since. Mendez and De León were both born in Guatemala and moved to the United States when they were young children. They married two years ago and now live in San Rafael where she works as a Montessori preschool teacher and he works as a district manager for a cellphone company. After applying, and then renewing for the past several years, they have a few suggestions for those looking to apply.

Prerna Lal who is a human rights and immigration lawyer and advocate based in Berkeley, also has some tips. Lal describes how the process requires quite a bit of documentation, "You can't just give me your passport and expect this process to be done," they said. An added challenge is assembling all the documents together and organized during a pandemic, Lal said.

Here are some tips for those looking to apply for DACA — from people who have done it before.

Apply as soon as possible

While the announcement that DACA can now be renewed is a win for undocumented communities, fear and mistrust still linger, and the future is uncertain.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, a Republican appointee in Southern Texas, has scheduled a hearing on the case for Dec. 22, 2020. Hanen notably blocked an expansion of DACA in 2015 but also declined to issue a preliminary injunction on it in 2018.

For Lal, who has been keeping a close eye on the court proceedings, said the next step is that DACA will be in front of what could be an unfavorable judge. "So, I would say to apply as soon as possible because, we don't really know ... what will happen," Lal said.

As Lal notes, if you apply right away, you will likely still be able to move forward even if the program is struck down for others in the future.

After the Trump administration threatened to take away DACA and fought it all the way to the Supreme Court, many people still wonder if it will last.

“It turned on the switch in my head that [DACA] is not a sure thing," De León said.

"Still, at any time, they can take it away and you have no control of it,” he said, while reflecting on the benefits that DACA has brought to him and many other immigrants.

A stack of completed applications await review by attorneys at Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN) in San Jose on Feb. 7, 2018. In 2018, the nonprofit offered financial aid to DACA applicants unable to afford the $495 renewal fee. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

Check with a local community organization or lawyer

In applications like these, people can also rely on community organizations to guide them through the process. For Mendez and De León, Canal Alliance — a community organization in Marin County — was of great help when they first applied.

“You need to have someone to rely on,” Mendez said. “It benefits people because you see others go through that program from the community and it is seen as an encouragement.”

Lal also recommends checking the Immigration Advocates Network to find a local legal service. Some organizations, they said, even have funding to pay the DACA application fee.

Lastly, Lal also suggests having a conversation with a lawyer to make sure the applicant is not eligible for a different kind of visa or path to citizenship. Lal said that at least 20-30% of people who seek assistance with DACA are eligible for another legal mechanism toward citizenship — such as a U-Visa, special immigrant juvenile status or something else.

Keep Everything Organized

Like any application process requiring you to assemble a variety of papers, a key tip is simply keeping everything together so you easily find it. "Keep everything in file, have everything organized," Mendez said. "That way you could always look back and, if anything happens, you have evidence that you have it and it’s all in one folder."

Mendez and De León both agreed that the process takes the longest the first time you apply. However, the renewal process is way simpler — even moreso if you have all of your documents on hand.

“Make copies of everything. Make sure you don’t have one single copy of it. It definitely helps your review process to literally copy and paste,” De León said.

Lal notes that the one requirement people may be ignoring, or may be a challenge, is the "proof of physical presence on June 15, 2012 — that you have to show that you were present in the U.S. on that date — if you don't have the exact date you can show something before, something after."


Now that this date is so long ago, it could be hard to show that from a documentation standpoint.

"I think people should consult a lawyer, or at least consult with a nonprofit," Lal said. "It is not as straight-forward as before."

Check Your Application Before Sending

De León also says people should double and triple check your application before sending it to avoid any type of mistake in the forms, since this can prolong the process.

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